Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia is a form of dementia caused by abnormal clusters of a protein in brain cells. This protein, alpha-synuclein, is found in all healthy brains, but in LBD, the proteins clump together into groups called Lewy bodies. The clusters disrupt the brain cells and cause these cells to work less effectively, eventually killing the brain cells. The protein clusters can also disrupt the activities of brain chemicals important to brain function. Both of these changes can lead to problems with thinking, memory, movement, behavior, and mood. LBD is considered the third most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disease.

Diagnosing LBD can be challenging. Early LBD symptoms are often confused with similar symptoms found in other brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Also, LBD can occur alone or along with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.

There are two types of LBD: Dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Although these two types are caused by the same changes in the brain, the early signs of these diseases are different. Over time, people with Lewy body dementia or Parkinson’s disease dementia may develop similar symptoms.

Why the name? Lewy bodies are named for Dr. Friederich Lewy (pronounced “Louie”), a German neurologist. In 1912, he discovered clusters of proteins that disrupt brain functioning in people with Parkinson’s disease. These abnormal deposits are now called Lewy bodies.