How to Care for Someone with Lewy Body Dementia
The diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is life changing.
After the initial shock and grief wear off, it is critical that a long-term care plan is created and put in place as soon as possible. The quality of life for both the patient, as well as loved ones and other caregivers, is directly impacted by implementing a thoughtful care plan that accommodates for the range of changes and needs that evolve over time.
There is much you can do to provide high-quality care for someone with LBD. Educating yourself, securing support and making lifestyle changes to slow progression are just a few things you can do.
Confirming a Lewy Body Dementia Diagnosis
Many well-intentioned physicians misdiagnose Lewy Body Dementia as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s dementia because the symptoms of LBD can be similar.
However, an incorrect diagnosis can be devastating because, as Howard I. Hurtig, M.D., Chair, Department of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital, and member of the LBDA Scientific Advisory Council, states:
“While the symptoms of LBD may be similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease dementia, the treatment strategy is more challenging because fewer medications can be used safely.” Dr. Hurtig adds, “I cannot overemphasize the need to avoid medications that can worsen the symptoms of LBD. Every patient with this disease and their caregivers should be familiar with the list of acceptable and forbidden drugs.”
The Lewy Body Dementia Association has a wonderful publication, Lewy Who? which includes a helpful chart describing the difference in symptoms between those with LBD and their Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease dementia counterparts.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s dementia, it’s worth reviewing these LBDA resources before starting any new medications in case LBD is the more accurate diagnosis.
Learning About Lewy Body Dementia
Education and communication are key to getting the care your loved one needs. The more you and caregivers understand about Lewy Body Dementia, the better.
In addition to the resources above, check out the LBDA, Learn About LBD page. Consider printing poignant portions of these pages for easy reference. It’s a wealth of information to digest but consider it a roadmap, helping you find your way along this complex journey.
Also, learn how effective lifestyle changes improve dementia outcomes, including:
- Anti-inflammatory diets that optimize plant-based foods
- Dramatically limiting processed foods and sugars
- Getting regular exercise and/or physical therapy
- Maintaining consistent circadian rhythms and sleep habits
Read Harvard U’s, Intensive LIfestyle Change: It Work… for more information.
Getting a Neurologist Referral for Lewy Body Dementia Treatment
Accurate diagnosis is key, as is early treatment action.
Seek a referral to a neurologist experienced in treating Lewy Body Dementia. There are medications known to alleviate certain LBD symptoms. There are also common antipsychotic medications that do more harm and exacerbate symptoms.
Work with an expert who’s up-to-date with the most current LBD research for optimized treatment.
Caring for Someone with Lewy Body Dementia
During the early stages of the disease symptoms are easier to manage. This makes it easy for loved ones to fill in the care gaps.
Although this is encouraged, these gaps and needs escalate at a more rapid pace as time elapses. As a result, caregivers often experience stress, depression, problems in their personal life and difficulty taking care of themselves. Caregiver stress is common and comes with hard-hitting consequences. Enlisting the help of care providers is a powerful step.
4 Tips for Lewy Body Dementia Care
1. Visit live-in care providers early to make an educated decision
If LBD is caught early, in-home care might make sense before the patient is transitioned to a memory care community.
Even so, schedule consultations and tours with prospective communities now. Not only does this give you time to process your decision, and learn more about what the future holds, it also provides the patient a greater sense of autonomy and choice in the matter.
2. Begin scheduling respite care opportunities
In the beginning, your life may only change a bit here and there, as you create new systems to navigate day-to-day life. However, things can snowball quickly.
Scheduling respite care opportunities allow you to remain more patient and compassionate when it’s your turn to provide care (and prevent caregiver burnout).
3. Use home care aides
If you opt to remain at home before transitioning to memory care, use a home care agency for tasks that are more challenging for you. This enables you to reserve your energy for the logistics, decisions, and emotional care required on a regular basis.
Home care aides can do the majority of the lifting, bathing, errand running, housekeeping and other tasks you may not have time for anymore.
The more you enlist the help of others’ support, the better able you are to care for your loved one.
4. Create an information & resource guide
Things may seem status quo for a while, but they can shift suddenly.
In order to ensure your loved one receives the care he or she needs, it’s important to be prepared and organized. Keep an emergency information packet on hand that includes:
- An easy-to-read sheet, briefly explaining LBD, as well as any other medical conditions, for EMTs and/or care providers
- A list of all of the current medications/dosages and contraindications, updated regularly
- Copies of medical insurance cards
- Copies of health care advance directives
- Important contact information for neurologist/primary care providers, family, friends, neighbors, etc.
Planning for the Future with Lewy Body Dementia
Caring for someone with Lewy Body Dementia requires a balanced approach.
On one hand, it’s essential to plan for the future; on the other, it’s important to be present in the moment and take things day-by-day. Depending on your loved one’s symptoms and disposition, it’s critical to be flexible in terms of routine because things can change suddenly.
For example, those caring for someone with LBD find things go best when life moves at a slower pace, with fewer expectations and more flexible schedules. Things like art, music, gardening and sharing favorite foods may take precedence over other, more distracting activities.
Transitioning to Memory Care for Lewy Body Dementia
The temptation to put off the transition to a memory care center is understandable.
However, changes in routine and major transitions become more stressful as time goes on. Studies show that moving those in mid to later stages of dementia exacerbates their condition, compared to those who moved earlier and had more time to adjust to their new environment before dementia progressed.
Having a difficult time selecting the right memory care center for your loved one? Use this Checklist of Questions To Ask… to guide your decision.