Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s: The Importance of a Definitive Diagnosis

Caregiver helping elderly man with Lewy Body Dementia.
Learn the difference between Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s.

On an annual basis, thousands of American seniors are told they have Parkinson’s disease, but they don’t. For a number of these patients, the actual diagnosis is a similar but not as well-known disease: Lewy body dementia, sometimes referred to as dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Dementia with Lewy bodies impacts as many as 1.3 million Americans, as reported by the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). That approximation may very well be too low considering that some people who’ve been incorrectly identified as having Parkinson’s still have not been given an accurate diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms for the two diseases are often very similar, especially when they progress, because they reflect the same underlying changes in the brain.

Below are the symptoms you should be familiar with, according to the LBDA:

  • Worsening dementia – Increasing confusion and decreasing attention and executive function are typical. Memory impairment might not be evident in the early stages.
  • Recurrent visual hallucinations – These are typically intricate and elaborate.
  • Hallucinations of other senses – Touch or hearing are the most common.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – This can appear decades ahead of the onset of dementia and Parkinson’s.
  • Recurring falls and fainting – Including undetermined loss in consciousness.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances – Most of these differ from patient to patient.

Is the correct diagnosis really essential? Diagnosing DLB quickly and properly may possibly mean the difference between life and death, according to Howard I. Hurtig, M.D., Chair, Department of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital and Elliott Professor of Neurology. Incorrectly treating DLB can not only result in significant adverse reactions, but can even worsen symptoms and prevent effective symptom management.

Much of the confusion among health care professionals stems from the fact that both Parkinson’s disease and DLB belong to the same umbrella of Lewy body dementias.

The most crucial distinction is in the “one-year rule” associated with cognitive symptoms. Patients with Parkinson’s disease typically do not present cognitive issues until at least a year after movement symptoms begin. DLB is the opposite, with cognitive symptoms developing first for at least a year.

Heaven at Home Senior Care offers high-quality respite care in Denton and the surrounding communities. Reach out to us online or give us a call us at 940-380-0500 to set up a free in-home care assessment or to find out more about the way we can assist your senior loved one with dementia.