What is Lewy body dementia? Ted Turner's diagnosis explained

It may be confused with Alzheimer's disease, but Lewy body dementia is different.
Ted Turner
Ted Turner, seen here in 2013, turns 80 next month.AP

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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

Ted Turner’s diagnosis of Lewy body dementia puts him in the company of more than one million Americans dealing with brain changes caused by the disease.

The famed business tycoon and cable news pioneer revealed his state of health over the weekend, noting he has been feeling exhausted and forgetful.

“It’s a mild case of what people have as Alzheimer’s,” Turner, who turns 80 next month, told CBS Sunday Morning. “It’s similar to that. But not nearly as bad. Alzheimer’s is fatal.”

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of degenerative dementia, Lewy body dementia is the second-most common form, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association. LBD is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s, but the two conditions have different causes and symptoms, Dr. James E. Galvin, a professor of neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told NBC News.

Lewy body dementia received much attention after Robin Williams' widow said the comedian had the condition when he took his own life in 2014.

“One of the doctors said, 'Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it,’” Susan Schneider Williams told People.

The disease, which caused the actor to experience anxiety attacks and motor-skill problems, wasn’t diagnosed until the actor’s autopsy, the magazine reported.

Famed DJ Casey Kasem also died in 2014 after being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.

What causes Lewy body dementia?

Lewy bodies, named after Dr. Friedrich Lewy who first discovered them in 1912, are deposits of abnormal proteins inside brain cells, according to the Lewy Body Society.

They affect chemicals in the brain, which can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood, the National Institute on Aging noted.

It’s not well understood why these changes happen, but age is considered the greatest risk factor, with most people diagnosed over 50.

An LBD patient can either have Parkinson’s disease dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies — the two are closely related.

What are the symptoms?

The warning signs can be mild at first, but worsen with time. They include:

  • Problems with cognitive ability, attention, alertness, memory, judgment and concentration
  • Behavior changes
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Slow movement, tremors, difficulty walking, or rigidity
  • Sleep problems, including acting out dreams
  • Problems with autonomic body functions, such as bladder and bowel function

How is LBD diagnosed?

The disease affects some 1.4 million people in the U.S., the Lewy Body Dementia Association estimated, but diagnosing it can be challenging.

Only an autopsy can provide a conclusive diagnosis, but doctors can recognize the symptoms with the help of physical and neurological examinations, mental status tests and brain imaging.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure, but medications developed to treat cognitive problems produced by Alzheimer’s disease are also given to LBD patients.

A patient goes on to live for an average of five to eight years after a diagnosis, the National Institute on Aging estimated.

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