Is It Dementia With Lewy Bodies or Parkinson’s?

An older man with dementia with Lewy bodies leans on a walker with the support of his caregiver as he enters his home.
Learn differences between Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

If someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may be surprised to know that it could actually be something altogether different. Each year, countless people in the U.S. are incorrectly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For many of these people, the correct diagnosis is a very similar but lesser known condition: dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

There are more than 1.3 million people in America living with dementia with Lewy bodies, as reported by the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). And, this figure is likely to be much higher, considering that a number of people have been inaccurately identified as having Parkinson’s and have yet to receive a correct diagnosis.

Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies share similar signs and symptoms, particularly as the conditions progress, since they reflect similar underlying changes in the brain.

Following are the signs you should become familiar with, as reported by the LBDA:

  • An increase in dementia symptoms – Growing confusion and reduced attention and executive function are common. Memory impairment may not be noticeable in the early stages.
  • Visual hallucinations – These are usually complex and elaborate.
  • Hallucinations of other senses – Touch and hearing are the most common.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – This may appear years before the onset of dementia and Parkinson’s.
  • An increase in falls and fainting – This includes any undetermined loss of consciousness.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances – These differ from person to person.

So how important is it to receive an accurate diagnosis? Diagnosing DLB 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 DLB will not only trigger serious negative side effects, but could even worsen symptoms and prevent effective symptom management.

The confusion between Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies stems from the fact that they both fall under the same umbrella of Lewy body dementias.

The Key Difference Between Parkinson’s and DLB

A clear distinction between these two conditions can be found in the “one-year rule” related to cognitive symptoms. Those with Parkinson’s disease typically do not present cognitive issues until at least one year after mobility symptoms begin. Dementia with Lewy bodies is the exact opposite, with cognitive symptoms appearing first for at least one year.

Nightingale Homecare is here to help individuals with Parkinson’s, DLB, or any other chronic condition. Our licensed medical and non-medical home care services ensure a seamless continuum of care as needs change over time. Contact us at (602) 504-1555 to find out more about how we can help someone you love in Paradise Valley, Peoria, Sun City, or throughout the metro Phoenix area. See our full service area page  to find out if we can help in your area.