Dementia: Expert discusses the signs and symptoms
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There are more than 400 different types of dementia but Lewy body dementia (LBD) is one of the most common. LBD is a type of progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function because of abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time. The symptoms of LBD can vary from person to person both in nature and severity.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NDS), sleep disorders are common in people with LBD but are often undiagnosed.
As the NDS explains, excessive daytime sleepiness is a telltale sign of LDB.
The health body characterises this as sleeping for two or more hours during the day.
Other sleep disturbances include:
- REM sleep behaviour disorder – a condition in which a person seems to act out dreams. It may include vivid dreaming, talking in one’s sleep, violent movements, or falling out of bed. Sometimes only the bed partner of the person with LBD is aware of these symptoms. REM sleep behaviour disorder appears in some people years before other LBD symptoms.
- Insomnia — difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early.
- Restless leg syndrome – a condition in which a person, while resting, feels the urge to move his or her legs to stop unpleasant or unusual sensations. Walking or moving usually relieves the discomfort.
General symptoms of LBD may include problems with:
- Thinking speed
- Visual perception
- Memory (but significant memory loss may not occur until later on).
How to respond to symptoms
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia, especially if you’re over 65 years of age.
“If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest that you go with them,” advises the health body.
“The GP can do some simple checks to try to find out the cause of your symptoms and may refer you to a specialist for further tests.”
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Am I at risk?
It’s not clear exactly what underpins LBD but because research into this form of dementia is not extensive as research into other types.
There are a few studies that suggest birth relatives of a family member with DLB may be at slightly higher risk, but this is not conclusive.
As the Alzheimer’s Society (AS) reports, several gene variants have recently been linked to a higher risk of DLB.
“The APOE e4 variant is thought to be the strongest genetic risk factor for DLB, as it is for Alzheimer’s disease,” AS explains.
According to the health body, it is not entirely surprising that the gene variant is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is because the symptoms of DLB overlap with those of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, and the diseases share some common underlying features.”
A study published in the journal Neurology has linked other risk factors to LBD.
“We reported that the history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in adults is a risk factor for DLB,” the researchers wrote.
ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behaviour, causing symptoms such as restlessness.
The researchers added: “We think that the greater likelihood of having a history of depression or anxiety in patients with diagnosis of DLB would support our findings because the diagnosis of ADHD is often confused or overlaps with depression and anxiety in many cases.”
Ongoing research is being conducted to learn about risk factors for LBD.
Some studies have suggested that a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, mental stimulation, and a healthy diet, might reduce the chance of developing age-associated dementia.
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