Dementia is not a disease in itself but a cluster of symptoms associated with brain damage. There are more than 400 different types of dementia and the symptoms a person experiences depends on the part of the brain that is damaged. Common symptoms found in all forms of dementia include memory loss and confusion.
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Certain forms of dementia produce more distinct symptoms.
Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, causes auditory hallucinations.
This can take the form of hearing sounds that are not real, such as knocking or footsteps, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
Visual hallucinations are also a common early warning sign of lewy body dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society explains: “Visual hallucinations are often of people or animals, and are detailed and convincing to the person with dementia.
“They can last several minutes and may be distressing. (Someone may also have visual misperceptions, such as mistaking a shadow or a coat on a hanger for a person.)”
Other specific warning signs include:
- Marked swings between alertness and confusion or sleepiness – this can happen unexpectedly and change over minutes or hours
- Slow movement, stiff limbs, tremors (uncontrollable shaking) and shuffling when walking – similar to Parkinson’s disease
- Fainting, unsteadiness and falls
- Disturbed sleep – this could be talking in sleep, acting out dreams or Sleepiness during the day
- Difficulty swallowing
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Research published last year shed further light on the specific symptoms of lewy body dementia.
For the first time, scientists at Newcastle University have shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia have unique walking patterns that signal subtle differences between the two conditions.
The research, published last year in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, shows that people with Lewy body dementia change their walking steps more – varying step time and length – and are asymmetric when they move, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the study, it is a first significant step towards establishing gait as a clinical biomarker for various subtypes of the disease and could lead to improved treatment plans for patients.
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For the study, researchers analysed the walk of 110 people, including 29 older adults whose cognition was intact, 36 with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 with Lewy body dementia.
The participants took part in a simple walking test at the Gait Lab of the Clinical Ageing Research Unit, an NIHR-funded research initiative jointly run by Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University.
Participants moved along a walkway – a mat with thousands of sensors inside – which captured their footsteps as they walked across it at their normal speed and this revealed their walking patterns.
People with Lewy body dementia had a unique walking pattern in that they changed how long it took to take a step or the length of their steps more frequently than someone with Alzheimer’s disease, whose walking patterns rarely changed.
When a person has Lewy body dementia, their steps are more irregular and this is associated with increased falls risk.
The findings suggest that people with lewy body dementia walk more asymmetrically in step time and stride length, meaning the left and right footsteps look different to each other.
Scientists found that analysing both step length variability and step time asymmetry could accurately identify 60 percent of all dementia subtypes – which has never been shown before.
Dr Ríona McArdle, Post-Doctoral Researcher at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, who led the Alzheimer’s Society-funded research, said: “The results from this study are exciting as they suggest that walking could be a useful tool to add to the diagnostic toolbox for dementia.”
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