10 lewy body dementia symptoms
Lewy body dementia (LBD) happens when abnormal deposits of a certain protein start to form in the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies, and the chemical alterations they cause inside the brain cause progressively more serious damage.[] The damage from Lewy bodies can affect any part of the brain, including those parts that control mental processes, movement, and emotional control. Among all dementia causes, this is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure for Lewy body dementia, but early detection can help manage the symptoms in many people. These are 10 common symptoms of Lewy body dementia.
Muscle Rigidity or Stiffness
Lewy body dementia frequently causes damage to the brain’s motor cortex that results in muscle rigidity and stiffness of movement. People with Lewy-caused rigidity commonly show increased muscle tone and less flexibility. This can be accompanied by stiffness and reflexive movements in the neck and shoulder muscles.[] People who present this stage of dementia may also experience muscle spasms that go away while they sleep or are under anesthesia, but it can be present throughout waking hours.
Shuffling Gait While Walking
The loss of control over motor function that causes stiffness can also affect the way a person with Lewy body dementia walks. The classic gait of a person with this disease involves short, shuffling steps at low speed. The characteristic shuffling gait of a person with advancing Lewy body dementia is often accompanied by a stiff upper body and lack of arm movement. The person may stand fully erect, but it’s also common for them to develop a pronounced stoop while walking.[]
Dysphagia is the technical name for difficulty swallowing, which can be a symptom of Lewy body dementia. Swallowing is a surprisingly complex task that involves precise timing of several different muscle groups, so the loss of function in the motor cortex often shows up as a loss of coordination or control over this process. Difficulty when swallowing can happen at any time. People might first notice it while trying to eat or drink, but it can also interfere with normal swallowing.[]
Lewy bodies that form in the back of the brain can cause visual hallucinations. This region of the brain, called the occipital cortex, processes complex visual inputs, and dysfunction that affects it can be experienced as visual hallucinations. Impaired or otherwise affected eyesight can be a result of damage to other parts of the brain as well. Brain changes anywhere along the optic nerve’s long path to the rear area of the brain have the potential to cause trouble with a person’s visual abilities.[]
Reduced Facial Expression
The nerves that control the movement of facial muscles can be partially impaired in the case of Lewy body dementia. As part of the gradual loss of motor control, it’s common for the facial muscles to move less and less, even while a person is speaking or experiencing emotions that would ordinarily produce noticeable facial expressions. People with advancing Lewy body dementia may have a blank-looking expression while not interacting with other people and then recover when speaking. At advanced stages, the face may remain largely blank even then.[]
Tremor or Shaking at Rest
Motor cortex impairment caused by the Lewy bodies can interfere with how signals move through the nerves that control voluntary muscle movement all over the body. This may show itself as uncontrolled tremors or shaking arms and hands.[] A person showing this symptom of Lewy body disease might only experience mild tremors that come and go. Over time, as the disease progresses, the tremors get more pronounced and harder to control until they become nearly constant.
A Weak Voice
Lewy body dementia symptoms can also include a noticeably weaker voice that’s hard to hear. Weakness of the throat muscles and a loss of coordination of the laryngeal nerve with the rest of the voice box makes it increasingly difficult for people with advanced dementia to talk. The weakened voice caused by this condition can come out at a higher pitch or with a thinner and more reedy timbre. Other people might describe the person’s voice as being quieter, squeakier, or more raspy than before.[]
Loss of Coordination, Balance Problems, and Repeated Falls
It’s not unheard of for a senior to have a fall, and it’s not necessarily a symptom of Lewy body dementia. It can be, however, because the disease often causes a loss of coordination between various parts of the body and makes a fall more likely to happen. A single incident could not confirm the diagnosis dementia, especially if a person shows no other Lewy body dementia symptoms. Repeated falls, however, especially if they happen against a background of other signs of the disease, would require further investigations.
The progressive loss of motor control that characterizes Lewy body dementia can show up as a steadily degrading posture and ability to stand upright. There are many reasons why older adults might develop a stoop, or it might have no obvious cause apart from advancing age. The damage to neurons caused by Lewy bodies can also cause this. A pronounced stoop that develops along with other symptoms of Lewy body should be brought up to a doctor as part of the assessment for dementia.
Progressively smaller handwriting is one of the early symptoms of dementia. The first signs of both Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia can be ever-smaller handwriting that appears increasingly cramped when compared with earlier writing samples. Smaller handwriting, or micrographia as it’s called, happens for a number of reasons. These include the normal stiffness and loss of dexterity that come with age and the increasing loss of motor control.[]