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What Are Lewy Bodies?

Lewy body dementia is theorized to be the second most common form of dementia in elderly people.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Lewy bodies are abnormal collections of proteins that accumulate in brain cells. They are named for Frederic Lewy, the neurologist and researcher who first identified them in 1912. Lewy bodies are associated with Parkinson's disease as well as a devastating form of dementia. Doctors and medical researchers are unsure why Lewy bodies form, but studies show that they are associated with the degeneration of cellular material in the brains of older people. Individuals with Parkinson's disease or Lewy body dementia typically experience difficulties controlling motor movements, delusions, visual hallucinations, and trouble remaining focused on books or conversation.

Researchers believe that Lewy bodies are collections of misshapen alpha-synuclein proteins, though they do not fully understand why the proteins form improperly. The presence of Lewy bodies is closely linked with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia. It is common for doctors to notice Lewy body deposits in the mid-brain of Parkinson's patients, while excessive, abnormal proteins are more widespread in Lewy body dementia patients. The proteins tend to cause neural and cognitive problems in both diseases.

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Individuals with Lewy body dementia are subject to memory loss, delusions, and concentration problems. Visual hallucinations, such as seeing bright flashes of color, random objects, and familiar people are very common in individuals with Lewy body dementia. Some patients gradually lose control of motor movements, and become unable to walk or fully use their fingers. It is believed that Lewy bodies can have many of the same effects in people with Parkinson's disease, especially the physical symptoms of impaired motor functioning. A doctor should be contacted if an individual believes that he or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of Parkinson's or Lewy body dementia.

A physician can check for the possibility of Parkinson's or dementia by asking questions about a person's medical and family history. If other medical causes of symptoms, such as a vitamin deficiency, are ruled out, the physician generally schedules an appointment with a neurologist. Neurologists typically conduct brain scans, order blood tests, and administer a written or oral memory test to diagnose Lewy body dementia or Parkinson's disease. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, the doctor will determine the best means of managing symptoms.

There are no known cures for the diseases related to Lewy bodies, though certain medications and therapy routines can significantly alleviate symptoms and allow individuals to better manage their daily lives. Antipsychotic drugs are often helpful in reducing the number and severity of hallucinations and delusional episodes, and muscular symptoms can be relieved with specialized medications that help the brain produce and use the neurotransmitter dopamine. Physical therapy helps patients maintain muscle strength and balance despite their motor difficulties.

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