July 7, 2016

Lewy Body Dementia: Often Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's

Two years ago when the much-loved actor Robin Williams took his own life, initial reports focused on his long struggle with depression and substance abuse as a likely cause.

A year later, however, his widow Susan clarified the record; his death, she said, was a result of the debilitating brain disease known as Lewy body dementia (LBD).

Why was that diagnosis not made earlier? After all, LBD is the second most common form of progressive dementia, affecting around 1.3 million Americans, mostly age 65+.

According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, it takes an average of three doctors and more than 18 months to correctly diagnose LPD. Most doctors fail to recognize the signs of LBD, since the symptoms are very similar to those of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

An examination of Williams's brain tissue revealed the presence of "diffuse Lewy body dementia." Williams's doctors thought that LBD "was a critical factor that led to his suicide."  

Williams presumably had top-flight doctors, yet it took an autopsy to correctly diagnose the LBD. 

Now that I know a little about LBD, I suspect that several members of my Parkinson's support group had LBD, not Parkinson's. Hallucinations are a common symptom of LBD, but not Parkinson's. I remember one of our members regaling us with descriptions of his encounters with his three wives -- all three hallucinations.

I've talked about LBD in earlier posts:
 What prompted today’s post was seeing this video which has a good clear discussion of LBD and how it is frequently misdiagnosed.

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