Every year, a great many American seniors are told they have Parkinson’s disease, but they do not. For a lot of these people, the true diagnosis is a similar but lesser-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 could very well be too low since some individuals who have been incorrectly identified as having Parkinson’s still haven’t received an accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms for the two diagnoses can be extremely similar, in particular when they progress, because they exhibit similar root alterations in the brain.
Below are the symptoms you should be aware of, according to the LBDA:
- Intensifying dementia – Growing confusion and minimized attention and executive function are common. Memory impairment may not be obvious in the early stages.
- Frequent visual hallucinations – These are usually intricate and elaborate.
- Hallucinations of other senses – Touch or hearing are usually the most common.
- REM sleep behavior disorder – This might show up decades before the onset of dementia and Parkinson’s.
- Recurring falls and fainting – Including unexplained loss of consciousness.
- Other psychiatric disturbances – These differ from patient to patient.
Is a correct diagnosis really very important? Diagnosing DLB swiftly and accurately may well 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 bring about severe side effects, but can even worsen symptoms and preclude appropriate symptom management.
Some of the confusion among health care professionals stem from the fact that both Parkinson’s disease and DLB belong to the exact same umbrella of Lewy body dementias.
A significant distinction is in the “one-year rule” associated to cognitive symptoms. Patients with Parkinson’s disease normally do not present cognitive issues until at least a year after movement symptoms begin. DLB is the exact opposite, with cognitive symptoms emerging first for at least one year.
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