Alzheimer’s disease Explained

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disease of the brain that develops over a period of time, rendering the brain incapable of working properly. Some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is that the patient loses their memory, and their capacity to communicate and perform everyday functions which results in dementia. Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s disease in 1906 in Germany and it is the commonest cause of dementia in the world.

Although reversible dementia can be caused by normal pressure hydrocephalus, a deficiency in vitamin B12 deficiency, and from infections caused by late-stage AIDS, the dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease is not reversible, and there is no known cure. There are two forms of the disease – early onset Alzheimer’s and late onset, or typical Alzheimer’s.

LBD Explained

Lewy body dementia, or LBD is a disease of the brain which causes progressive dementia, marked by a gradual decline in mental abilities. LBD is caused by accumulation of protein known as Lewy bodies. The disease affects movement, thinking and memory. Like Alzheimer’s disease, LBD is also difficult to diagnose, and it takes up to two years to detect. The first sign of this disease is impaired walking.

Hallucinations are another symptom of this disease, which results in the patient seeing non-existent objects, animals or people. The patient may also engage in imaginary conversations with deceased loved ones. The disease is characterized by diminished alertness, drowsiness during the day and staring into space. There may also be bouts of muscle rigidity, slowness in movement and tremors.

Similarities between Lewy Body Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

1. Difficulty of Diagnosis

To begin with, both these diseases are difficult to diagnose, immediately. The onset of Alzheimer’s or LBD is not like catching a cold or getting the flu, which is marked with high fever and weakness. The symptoms are characteristic of those that commonly occur in older people. Several of the symptoms, both mental and physical, are initially attributed to advancing old age. It is only after a few months or even years have elapsed, that the extreme symptoms become a matter of concern among friends and relatives, and the patient is sent for a thorough medical examination.

2. Psycho-neurological Nature

Both LBD and Alzheimer’s affect the brain, which in turn impairs the patient’s mental capacity and also manifest themselves physically, causing impaired movement, loss in coordination and tremors. Both the conditions involve hallucinations, and serious memory loss.

3. Most Frequent causes of Dementia

Although difficult to diagnose, it should be kept in mind that both LBD and Alzheimer’s disease are the most common causes of dementia in the US, as well as several other parts of the world. Due to this reason, once there are clear symptoms of dementia, the immediate objective would be to verify whether the cause is related to either of the two diseases. They both affect elderly patients, although LBD affects slightly younger people, even as young as 50 years old.

Differences between Lewy Body Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

While some differences between these two diseases are well-distinguished, others are subtle. Let us take look at the most widely-known differences between the two:

  • As previously stated, both diseases are accompanied with dementia, but where LBD affects an estimated 1.3 million Americans annually, Alzheimer’s affects a whopping 5.4 million.
  • In LBD, there is a drastic variance in the memory levels – the patient may not recognize their immediate relatives one day, but may recall the names of all their grandchildren the next. With Alzheimer’s however, memory loss is much more gradual, and there isn’t much difference between consecutive days.
  • Physical impairment is pronounced from the initial stages of LBD – in fact, it is one of symptoms by which causes a doctor to suspect that LBD could be setting in. On the other hand, physical deterioration takes place at a much later stage in the case of Alzheimer’s.
  • LBD patients show what is commonly known as a “flat effect”, which is marked by an absence of emotional expression on the face, which is incidentally, also common to those suffering from Parkinson’s. With Alzheimer’s, loss of facial expression does occur, but this tends to happen much later in the progression of the disease.
  • Seeing imaginary things, people and animals is a regular feature in LBD. Similar hallucinations affect Alzheimer’s patients as well, but these are not as common as in LBD.
  • LBD is also characterized by REM sleep behavior disorder, a condition during which the patient actually enacts what is going on in their dreams. These symptoms do not present themselves in the case of Alzheimer’s.
  • One of the adverse side effects noticed in the case of an LBD patient is severe “neuroleptic sensitivity”, which means in simple terms that as a result of medication, the patient can experience side effects like extreme drowsiness, development of Parkinson-like symptoms, accompanied by fever, and stiffness of the muscles, which can result in kidney failure and in extreme cases, death. Alzheimer’s patients on the other hand, are at a much lesser risk of suffering from these symptoms, and even in the cases where they do, the symptoms do not present themselves is such an extreme manner.
  • Patients with LBD have an average life expectancy up to the age of 78 years, with the average duration of time actually suffering from the disease estimated as 7.3 years. With Alzheimer’s, the progression of the disease is slower, with the average life expectancy of a patient being 84.6 years, and the average duration is put at 8.4 years. The shorter life expectancy of those suffering from LBD is assumed to be due to the increased incidence of falls, resting in more frequent hospitalization and rapider deterioration of health.
  • From the gender aspect, men are more likely to develop LBD than women, but in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, women are slightly more prone to get it than men.

The Final Analysis

These are both debilitating diseases of the brain which commonly affect older and elderly people. With both men and women LBD and Alzheimer’s disease can develop these diseases, on an almost fifty-fifty basis.  Both these diseases are incurable and difficult to diagnose, which can only be arrived at through diagnosis of exclusion, and basically, only the symptoms are treated. Even when either disease is diagnosed, there is a thin line between LBD and Alzheimer’s disease. We have highlighted these subtle differences which should make it easier to make out the difference between Lewy Body Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

About the Author