Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Lewy body disease

3-minute read

Lewy body disease is a common form of dementia. It is similar to Alzheimer's disease and causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. People with Lewy body disease may also have visual hallucinations, changes in alertness and attention, and physical symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's disease.

What is Lewy body disease?

Lewy body disease is caused by clumps of protein, called Lewy bodies, developing in the brain. Lewy bodies are also found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Lewy body has only recently been accepted as a disease in its own right, and often occurs at the same time as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and/or vascular dementia. For a diagnosis of Lewy body disease, a person must have:

  • visual hallucinations
  • tremors and stiffness, as with Parkinson's disease
  • a fluctuating mental state.

It is not known why Lewy bodies develop, but the disease does not run in families. 

Symptoms

The symptoms of Lewy body disease include:

  • difficulty concentrating and paying attention
  • extreme confusion
  • difficulties judging distances
  • hallucinations
  • Parkinsonism
  • a mental state that switches rapidly between thinking clearly and being confused
  • delusions
  • depression
  • disturbed sleep, acting out dreams
  • fainting spells, unsteadiness and falls
  • problems with understanding, thinking, memory and judgement.

Diagnosis

There is no specific test for Lewy body disease. To make a diagnosis, a specialist neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist will assess a person’s symptoms and mental abilities, and do blood tests to rule out similar conditions. They may do brain scans, such as an MRI or CT scan, or a SPECT (single-photon emission computerised tomography) or PET (positron emission tomography) scan.

Scans can show degeneration in the brain, but the Lewy bodies can only be found by examining brain tissue after death. 

Treatment

There is no cure for Lewy body disease, but a doctor may treat the symptoms with:

  • Alzheimer's disease medications to reduce hallucinations and behavioural problems
  • Parkinson's disease medications to improve rigid muscles and slow movement
  • antidepressants
  • sleep medicines.

Some medicines, such as antipsychotics, can make symptoms worse and may be dangerous. There are, however, other ways of dealing with symptoms, including:

  • learning to manage a person's behaviour
  • learning how to calm the person down
  • changing their environment to help them function
  • creating daily routines
  • using therapies, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy
  • providing cognitive stimulation.

People with Lewy body disease usually need help at home and eventually care in a nursing home. The disease progresses differently in different people. After they develop symptoms, people live on average for another 6 - 12 years, although some live much longer.

Who can help?

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about any symptoms, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: October 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dementia Australia | Lewy Body Disease

Lewy body diseaseis a common form of dementia, sharing many similarities with Alzheimers disease. Causes, diagnosis and progression are described here.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Dementia Australia | Lewy Body Disease

Lewy body diseaseis a common form of dementia, sharing many similarities with Alzheimers disease. Causes, diagnosis and progression are described here.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Dementia Australia | Lewy Body resources

Lewy Body disease resources Help Sheets Lewy body disease Cognitive (thinking) changes in Lewy body disease Neuropsychiatric (behavioural) changes in Lewy body disease

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) | myVMC

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with abnormal structures (Lewy bodies) found in certain areas of the brain

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Dementia: what is it? - myDr.com.au

Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Find out the early signs of dementia and the importance of a timely diagnosis.

Read more on myDr website

Dementia - different types - Better Health Channel

Dementia is more common in people over 65, but it is not a normal part of ageing.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Progressive supranuclear palsy - myDr.com.au

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy is a rare condition. The average age of onset is 50-70. Early symptoms include impaired downward gaze and unsteady gait.

Read more on myDr website

Brain Foundation | Dementia (Non-Alzheimer type)

Dementia (Non-Alzheimer type) Dementia (Non-Alzheimer type) (See also Alzheimers Disease) Description The term dementia is used to describe the pattern of deteriorating intellectual function particularly (although not exclusively) in the elderly that can occur as a result of various neurological disorders

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Dementia - Factsheets

Dementia is a name given to a group of symptoms which result from failing brain functions. The major signs are memory loss, confusion, disorientation and lessening of intellectual functioning.

Read more on NSW Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback