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Is It Parkinson’s or Dementia With Lewy Bodies?

An older man leans on a walker, likely diagnosed with either Parkinson’s or dementia with Lewy bodies.
An older man leans on a walker, likely diagnosed with either Parkinson’s or dementia with Lewy bodies.
Determining whether it’s Parkinson’s or dementia with Lewy bodies can be confusing, but our home care experts help break down the subtle differences.

Each year, thousands of American seniors are told they have Parkinson’s disease, but they don’t. For a number of these people, the actual diagnosis is a very similar but not as well-known disease: dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Dementia with Lewy bodies impacts as many as 1.3 million Americans, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). That approximation may be too low considering that some people who’ve been incorrectly diagnosed with Parkinson’s still haven’t received an accurate diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms for the two diseases can be very similar, particularly when they progress, given that they exhibit similar root changes in the brain.

Here are the symptoms you need to be aware of, as reported by the LBDA:

  • Worsening dementia – Increasing confusion and minimized attention and executive function are frequent. Memory impairment might not be obvious during the early stages.
  • Recurring visual hallucinations – These are commonly intricate and elaborate.
  • Hallucinations of other senses – Touch or hearing are usually the most frequent.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – This tends to show up decades before the onset of dementia and Parkinson’s.
  • Recurring falls and fainting – This can include unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Other psychiatric disruptions – Most of these vary from patient to patient.

Is the correct diagnosis actually so important? Diagnosing DLB quickly and properly could 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. Improperly treating DLB will not only lead to serious side effects, but could even exacerbate symptoms and preclude accurate symptom management.

Much of the confusion among physicians comes from the fact that both Parkinson’s disease and DLB belong to the same umbrella of Lewy body dementias.

The most important 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 mobility symptoms begin. DLB is the opposite, with cognitive symptoms developing first for at least one year.

CareFor is here to help someone you love with Parkinson’s, DLB, or any other challenge, with high quality senior home care services in Austin, New Braunfels, San Antonio, and the surrounding areas. Call us at (512) 338-4533 to schedule a free in-home assessment or to discover more about how we can provide the skilled support to improve quality of life.

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