Thursday, 26 November 2015 00:00

A simple test detects hard-to-diagnose Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is a neurological condition with similar symptoms to both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  It is often misdiagnosed because of such close similarities to these other two diseases.  Up to 80% of Alzheimer’s diagnoses are in fact LBD.  Actor Robin Williams who committed suicide in August 2014 was initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but a later autopsy revealed he had the early signs of LBD. 

Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of proteins called alpha-synuclein that accumulate in nerve cells. Over time, these proteins cause disruptive cognitive function and produce a crossover of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s symptoms such as tremors, as well as memory dysfunction. 

However in an exciting breakthrough in diagnostic tools, clinicians have found a quick and effective way to diagnose this form of dementia with a simple test that focuses on the subtle differences between the diseases, which takes just a few minutes and can be completed in a doctor’s office. 

Dr.  James E.  Galvin, a professor and associate dean for clinical research at the Charles E.  Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, has created a 3 minute test of 10 questions called the “Lewy Body Composite Risk Scale” (LBCRS).  A patient must only get three “yes” answers to qualify as having LBD. 

To test its effectiveness, 256 patients of varying demographics and diagnoses were given the test.  The scores showed a 96.8% accuracy and were published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia

“Alzheimer’s patients have difficulty learning new information, whereas non Alzheimer’s-dementias, including LBD, are better able to learn information but have difficulty retrieving information,” Galvin says.  “In the absence of a biomarker, you need a tool that can capture these symptoms and frame them in a way that every clinician can ask every patient the same questions and either rule it out, or make the diagnosis likely.”

The test is not yet available as it requires more funding for further research, but hopefully soon millions of people will be properly diagnosed early on, and treated accordingly. 

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