Q: What is Lewy body dementia? Is it similar to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease?

MM

Answer: Lewy body dementia (LBD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) are both associated with a collection of an abnormal protein called alpha-synuclein in the nerve cells of the brain. These clumps of abnormal proteins are known more commonly as Lewy bodies, named after the doctor and scientist Fritz Heinrich Lewy, who discovered them in 1910. The primary difference between the two conditions is where the proteins are located in the brain and how they impact a person’s daily functioning.

For LBD, the earliest symptoms of the condition affect cognition and mood. Persons with LBD may experience mood changes like depression and anxiety, sleep difficulties and behaviors, hallucinations and cognitive changes (e.g., trouble paying attention, poor spatial reasoning skills). Eventually persons with LBD will also exhibit movement difficulties, such as tremors, stiff muscles or a shuffling walk, all of which would likely be detected during a physical exam by a doctor. LBD is the second most common type of dementia and affects nearly 1.4 million people in the United States.

Conversely, individuals with PD typically only have movement difficulties as their earliest symptoms. Over time, non-motor symptoms may appear, including cognition changes and sleeping difficulties, memory problems and anxiety. Importantly, not all people with PD will develop dementia or the other cognitive/mood symptoms described above, and it is impossible to predict which individuals with PD will develop dementia.

Since LBD and PD are very different from Alzheimer’s disease, for example, it is important to understand both these conditions in order to get appropriate help and support. While LBD and AD have some symptoms that are similar, the way these symptoms impact daily life looks quite different, especially in the early stages. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty making and preserving new memories, while individuals with LBD have difficulty problem-solving and making and executing plans with multiple steps and often have trouble with sense of direction or spatial awareness. Although possible, it is unlikely that someone with Alzheimer’s disease will experience hallucinations, have difficulty using their hands and other extremities, or exhibit extreme sleep behaviors. LBD is one of the most misdiagnosed forms of dementia. And, while at times LBD may look like Alzheimer’s disease or PD, individuals with LBD need specialized treatment, as they may experience more severe or worrisome medication side effects than the average person with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Memory Counseling Program is hosting an educational event at Senior Services called “In Their Shoes: Virtual Reality to Understand LBD” on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 10 a.m. Care partners of individuals living with LBD are invited to use virtual reality equipment to experience firsthand how Lewy bodies impact muscle movement, thinking and mood. Call Alyssa Botte at 336-716-4683, or email her at abotte@wakehealth.edu for more information or to register.

Meditation

Q: My blood pressure was a little high last time I went to my doctor’s appointment. The doctor did not think I need medication yet but suggested meditation. What is that, and are there any real benefits?

JK

Answer: More doctors are recommending meditation to patients, especially older adults. An advantage is that you can meditate practically anytime, anywhere, at no cost. Meditation is a way to calm the mind and body. It only requires that you sit or lie down, relax and pay little attention to thoughts as they drift in and out of your mind. The most widely used mediation in the U.S. is mindfulness meditation, which involves deep breathing and focusing on the present.

Other types of meditation practices are just as beneficial and come in different forms. Transcendental meditation focuses on a word or sound over and over, like peace or om. Guided imagery focuses on mental images, such as a beach or calming place. Centering prayer is a religious practice that uses a sacred word to focus on connecting to a higher power. Another practice is a body scan meditation, which concentrates on relaxing one body part at a time. Lastly, mind-body exercises such as tai chi or yoga combine focused breathing and either slow physical movements or static poses.

Research has shown that there are multiple physical benefits to meditating regularly, including a reduction in blood pressure. Meditation has also been found to reduce chronic ailments for people with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and asthma. A study reported in the American Heart Journal showed enhanced circulation, and a National Institute of Health study reported significant improvement for those with insomnia.

Meditation also has significant mental health benefits for seniors. Meditation has a positive effect on attention, memory, executive function, processing speed, and general cognition. Meditating also has a calming effect on older adults, thus reducing stress. Another added benefit found in a UCLA study was a decrease in feelings of loneliness.

At any stage of life, taking time to find peace of mind is important. Sometimes it is “easier said than done” to stop and take some time for yourself. The benefits, though, seem to be worth making the effort. As you start, remember it is a practice, and your mind will wander at first, but over time meditating will become easier and more valuable.

There are a variety of local organizations that offer meditation, tai chi and yoga, such as the local YMCAs. Simply call your local YMCA or visit ymcanwnc.org to check online for class times. The Shepherd’s Center also offers classes on tai chi and yoga. For more information call 336-748-0217 or visit shepherdscenter.org. A number of local yoga studios offer meditation classes too. If you would prefer to start your practice at home, online options are available. Heartfulness is a global nonprofit that provides online guides to getting started with meditation. Visit heartfulness.org for more information. YouTube also has a variety of free meditation videos, as well. A popular app is the Calm app, which you can try for free for seven days. Calm offers meditations focused on sleep, stress, anxiety and more. Calm can also be found at calm.com.

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AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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