Dementia: Sleep difficulties? The early signs of Lewy body found in the way you sleep

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LEWY body dementia, or dementia with Lewy bodies, is the third most common cause of dementia, roughly affecting 100,000 people in the UK. It’s caused by small round clumps of protein that build up inside nerve cells in the brain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep difficulties could be warning symptoms of Lewy bodies.

It explains: “You may have rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder, which can cause you to physically act out your dreams while you’re asleep.”

The National Sleep Foundation added typical signs to spot of REM sleep behaviour disorder, which include physically moving limbs or even getting up and engaging in activities associated with walking.

But it’s important to note REM sleep behaviour disorder isn’t always an indicator of Lewy body dementia.

The exact cause is unclear, but studies have suggested certain medications can trigger the sleep problem.

One study published in the National Library of Health looked at sleep disturbances in dementia with Lewy bodies and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Evidence suggests that patients with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) may have more nocturnal sleep disturbance than patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD),” began the study.

“Nocturnal sleep disorder was more frequent in clinically diagnosed dementia Lewy bodies relative to clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study concluded that comorbidity of nocturnal sleep disorder with hallucinations, agitation and apathy was higher in dementia Lewy body than in Alzheimer’s disease.

The NHS lists other symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies to watch out for:

Problems with understanding, thinking, memory and judgement – this is similar to Alzheimer’s disease, although memory may be less affected in people with dementia with Lewy bodies

Periods of fluctuating alertness alternating with periods of confusion or sleepiness – this can change over hours or days

Slow movement, stiff limbs and tremors (uncontrollable shaking)

Hallucinations (usually seeing or sometimes hearing things that aren’t there)

Fainting spells, unsteadiness and falls.

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, individuals in the early stages of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) may exhibit cognitive changes such as hallucinations or distortions of reality.

Some research has found a correlation between the presence of hallucinations and an increased amount of cognitive impairment in LBD.

Hallucinations in LBD have also been associated with a decrease in quality of life; thus, having an awareness of how to respond to them can be very helpful for both the person living with LBD and their caregiver.

Other signs to spot of LBD include:

  • Movement disorders
  • Poor regulation of body functions (autonomic nervous system)
  • Cognitive problems
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Fluctuating attention
  • Depression
  • Apathy.

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