Lewy Body Dementia vs. Parkinson’s: A Diagnostic Dilemma

A senior man with Lewy body dementia uses a walker and the help of his caregiver to get into his home.

Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia share similarities, and it is vital to avoid a misdiagnosis.

Each year, a number of American seniors are told they have Parkinson’s disease, but they don’t. For many of these people, the actual diagnosis is a very similar but not as well-known disease: Lewy body dementia (LBD).

Dementia with Lewy bodies affects around 1.3 million Americans, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). That estimate may even be too low given that some individuals who’ve been incorrectly identified as having Parkinson’s still haven’t received an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms for the two diagnoses can be extremely similar, especially when they progress, since they mirror similar underlying alterations in the brain.

Below are the symptoms you should be aware of, as reported by the LBDA:

  • Intensifying dementia – Growing confusion and reduced attention and executive function are frequent. Memory impairment might not be evident during the early stages.
  • Recurrent visual hallucinations – These are typically intricate and detailed.
  • Hallucinations of other senses – Touch or hearing are probably the most frequent.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – This may appear decades ahead of the onset of dementia and Parkinson’s.
  • Repeated falls and fainting – This includes undetermined loss of consciousness.
  • Other psychiatric disruptions – Most of these vary from patient to patient.

Is the correct diagnosis actually so important? Diagnosing LBD promptly and properly 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. Improperly treating LBD can not only result in severe adverse side effects, but could even aggravate symptoms and preclude accurate symptom management.

Most of the confusion among doctors comes from the fact that both Parkinson’s disease and LBD fall into the same umbrella of Lewy body dementias.

The primary difference is in the “one-year rule” related to cognitive symptoms. Patients with Parkinson’s disease by and large do not present cognitive issues until at least one year after movement symptoms start. LBD is the exact opposite, with cognitive symptoms developing first for at least a year.

Partners in Care provides high-quality senior home care services for those with Parkinson’s, LBD, or any other condition in Diamond Springs, Chico, Auburn, and the surrounding areas. Call us at (530) 268-7423 to schedule a free in-home care assessment or to learn more about how we can assist someone you love.

Shaun Clinkinbeard