Difference Between Alzheimer's and Lewy Body Dementia

Prevalence, Symptoms, Causes and Life Expectancy of LBD and AD

Magnification of Lewy bodies
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Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia (LBD) are both types of dementia. They have several similarities, but there are also some clear differences between the two diseases.

Prevalence

LBD: Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of dementia, with an estimated 1.3 million Americans diagnosed.​

Alzheimer’s: Alzheimer's disease is the most prevalent type of dementia. There are more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.

Cause

LBD: As the name suggests, Lewy body dementia is believed to be caused by the buildup of Lewy body proteins in the brain. 

Alzheimer's: Alzheimer's is characterized by amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Researchers are still seeking answers as to what exactly triggers these brain changes in both LBD and Alzheimer's, but they have identified nine specific risk factors that they believe play a role in triggering many cases of dementia. The good news about these factors is that they are one we can at least partially control.

Cognition

LBD: Symptoms and memory can vary significantly in LBD, such that on one day your grandmother might not recognize you and the next day, she can recall the names of each of her grandchildren.

Alzheimer’s: While cognition can vary somewhat in Alzheimer’s, typically the person’s ability to think and use his memory gradually declines over time.

In Alzheimer's symptoms, there is not usually a big variance from one day to the next.

Walking and Physical Movement

LBD: Often, one of the early symptoms of LBD is difficulty walking, a decrease in balance and ability to control physical movements. These symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s disease. Frequent falling is also common early in LBD.

Alzheimer’s: Physical deterioration usually does not occur in Alzheimer’s until the disease has significantly progressed, unless the individual has other diseases or illnesses.

Facial Expressions

LBD: Some people who have LBD display a flat affect, where their faces show very little emotion. This is another symptom that may present early in the disease and overlaps with Parkinson’s.

Alzheimer’s: While facial expressions often decrease as the disease progresses, this often doesn’t develop until the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s.

Visual Hallucinations

LBD: Visual hallucinations, where people see things that aren’t actually there, are quite common in LBD.

Alzheimer’s: Hallucinations do occur in Alzheimer’s, but are generally not as prevalent as in LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

LBD: People with LBD sometimes experience REM sleep behavior disorder, a dysfunction where they physically act out the situations in their dreams. Some research suggests that REM sleep behavior disorder can be one of the earlier predictors of LBD. 

Alzheimer’s: REM sleep behavior disorder is not typically present in Alzheimer’s, although other types of sleep disturbances may occur.

Sensitivity to Antipsychotics

LBD: People with LBD have a very high risk of serious side effects if antipyschotic medications are given to them.

According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association

“Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)"

Alzheimer’s: While anyone who takes an antipsychotic medication has a small risk of developing neuroleptic malignant syndrome, individuals with Alzheimer’s are not nearly as prone to developing the extreme sensitivity to antipsychotic medications that people with LBD demonstrate.

Disease Progression

LBD: According to research conducted by James E. Galvin, MD, MPH and other researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, the median survival time for those in the study with LBD is 78 years old, and survival after onset of Lewy body dementia was 7.3 years.

Alzheimer’s: In the above-referenced study, the median survival time for participants with Alzheimer’s was 84.6 years old, and the survival rate after the beginning of symptoms was 8.4 years. It has been suggested that the difference in the disease progression between LBD and Alzheimer’s can partially be explained by the increase in falls, and therefore injuries and hospitalizations, in those with LBD.

Gender

LBD: Men have a higher chance of developing LBD than women do.

Alzheimer’s: Women have a slightly higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

Sources:

Dementia SOS: Colorado's Dementia News and Resource Center. The difference between Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia. http://coloradodementia.org/2012/01/20/the-difference-between-alzheimers-disease-and-lewy-body-dementia/

Emory University. Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Lewy Body Dementia. http://med.emory.edu/ADRC/dementias/lewy_body_dementia/index.html

Lewy Body Dementia Association. Treatment Options. http://www.lbda.org/content/treatment-options

Lewy Body Dementia Association. Is It LBD or Something Else? http://www.lbda.org/node/8

Neurology. Survival and mortality differences between dementia with Lewy bodies vs. Alzheimer disease. http://www.neurology.org/content/67/11/1935.abstract

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