Nov 12, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Rodolfo Savica, M.D.

Robin Williams and Casey Kasem passed away just weeks apart from each other. Both of them were American icons, considered geniuses for their individual talents and contributions to the entertainment industry. Strangely enough, it appears as though they shared something else as well – they both may have suffered from the same common, but still relatively unknown condition known as Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB).

Kasem was officially diagnosed with DLB in early 2014. His condition was widely publicized because of a family dispute between Kasem’s daughter, Kerri, and his wife, Jean, until he lost his battle with the disease on June 15. With Williams, the world was shocked by his sudden passing on August 11. An autopsy report revealed that he may have also suffered from the disorder.

As unfortunate and sad as these two cases are, they are shedding new light on DLB.

What is Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) and Why Is It Still So “Unknown?”

DLB is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses – Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson’s disease – and is a progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function because of deposits that damage brain cells over time.

Interestingly, the disease affects approximately 1.3 million individuals and their families in the U.S. It is also important to keep in mind that there is no single test, or combination of tests, that can definitively diagnose DLB. In addition, because DLB symptoms can closely resemble other more known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is widely underdiagnosed.

In fact, many doctors and other medical professionals still are not familiar with DLB – an interesting notion given that Dementia with Lewy Bodies is the second most common form of dementia behind Alzheimer’s.

What are the Symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)?

Several symptoms are associated with DLB. According to the Alzheimer’s Association they can include:

  • Changes in thinking and reasoning
  • Confusion and alertness that varies significantly from one time of day to another or from one day to the next
  • Parkinson's symptoms, such as a hunched posture, balance problems and rigid muscles
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Trouble interpreting visual information
  • Acting out dreams, sometimes violently, a problem known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder
  • Malfunctions of the "automatic" (autonomic) nervous system
  • Memory loss that may be significant but less prominent than in Alzheimer's

What Treatment Options are Available?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Dementia with Lewy Bodies. However, patients with DLB are treated with some of the same drugs as those used to treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but clinical care is challenging. For example, the Lewy Body Dementia Association points out that some medications for Parkinsonian symptoms may increase the “confusion, delusions and hallucinations” commonly experienced by patients with DLB. For this reason, patients with DLB ideally should be managed by physicians trained in both movement disorders and cognitive neurology.

Rodolfo Savica, M.D.

Dr. Savica is the director of the Dementia with Lewy Bodies/Parkinson disease Dementia clinic, one of the few clinics in the United States that are focused on this group of patients.

dementia parkinson's disease

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