Researchers have found that stem cell therapy may reduce related cognitive impairment related to Lewy body dementia (LBD). Stem cell therapy is a growing area of research and the latest findings were conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine.
The researchers transplanted neural stem cells into genetically modified mice to exhibit Lewy body dementia. After a month the mice were tested for a variety of behavioral tasks and to see if there were any losses/gains in motor and cognitive function.
The researchers observed the effects of stem cells on brain pathology and circuitry connecting neurons. They found that functional improvements required specific growth factors.
Researchers observed two key brain structures, which become impaired with Lewy body dementia – dopamine and glutamate. Student and researcher Natalie Goldberg said, “Our experiments revealed that neural stem cells can enhance the function of both dopamine- and glutamate-producing neurons, coaxing the brain cells to connect and communicate more appropriately. This, in turn, facilitates the recovery of both motor and cognitive function.”
Professor Mathew Blurton-Jones, Ph.D., added, “Many important questions remain before we could envision moving forward with early-stage trials. For example, we’ll need to identify and test human neural stem cells first.”
Goldberg concluded, “BDNF, dopamine and glutamate are implicated in other neurodegenerative conditions, including Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The findings were published in Stem Cell Reports.
What is Lewy body dementia?
Lewy body dementia – or dementia with Lewy bodies – is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. In Lewy body dementia there is an accumulation of proteins which collect into masses known as Lewy bodies – Lewy bodies have also been seen in Parkinson’s disease as well. This build-up of protein impairs neurological communication causing cells to die.
Diagnosis of Lewy body dementia can be misleading because it often presents itself like other illnesses with similar symptoms. There is currently no cure for Lewy body dementia, but treatments are available to improve symptoms and slow down the reduction in cognitive function.
Signs and symptoms of Lewy body dementia
Changes or “fluctuations” in awareness and concentration – one moment the person may be alert, the next they may be tired or confused. Episodes can be unpredictable and can last for mere moments or several hours.
Spontaneous Parkinson’s-like motor symptoms – movement may become slower, muscles may become stiff and rigid, a slight tremor may develop, and the person may appear to not have many facial expressions.
Recurrent visual hallucinations or delusions – a person may see shapes, colors, people or animals or may even try to speak with a person who has since passed.
It is these core features that distinguish Lewy body dementia from other types of dementia. But along with these features, other signs and symptoms of Lewy body dementia include:
- Mental decline
- Recurrent hallucinations and depression
- Increasing problems handling daily tasks of life
- Repeated falls and fainting
- Motor problems
- Disturbances with sleep
- Fluctuations in bodily processes, such as blood pressure, body temperature, urinary difficulties, constipation and difficulty swallowing
Difference between LBD, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
There are many similarities between Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. For example, Lewy bodies can be present in Parkinson’s disease. At the same time, there are many differences between all three as well. For starters, LBD does not cause short-term memory loss like Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, hallucinations can occur in those with LBD but is not a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another difference is that those with LBD will act out their dreams – known as REM sleep disorder. This is not characterized in either Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s and LBD both contribute to movement problems, but individuals with Parkinson’s don’t have trouble thinking or with their memory until the late-stages of the disease, unlike LBD.
Lastly, drug treatments for LBD differ from that of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Treatments for Lewy body dementia
As mentioned, there is no cure for Lewy body dementia, but treatments are available to ease symptoms associated with this form of dementia. Common treatments involve the use of medication. Some common medications to treat LBD are:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors – typically Alzheimer’s disease medication
- Parkinson’s disease medication
- Antipsychotic medications
- Medications to treat symptoms like a sleep aid
Therapy, too, can help with Lewy body dementia, including:
- Tolerating the behavior
- Modifying the environment by reducing clutter to reduce risk of fall, for example
- Modifying response – this is based on the caregivers response to the patient
- Modifying daily tasks and routines to make them easier for the person to perform
Living with Lewy body dementia
Because LBD is not curable it can be quite stressful living with the condition. A good first start to improving life with LBD is to reach out to friends and family for support, and make lifestyle changes to better manage the disease. Here are some other tips to improve life with LBD.
- Inform yourself – The more you learn about the disease, the better you can prepare yourself for those next steps and changes which may occur.
- Reduce stress – Stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of LBD.
- Treat depression – It may seem natural to fall into a depression after being given a diagnosis of LBD, but depression can make not only the condition worse, but your overall health worse as well. Treating your depression can also help you handle LBD.
- Avoid isolation – Isolation has been linked with worsened health outcomes. Reach out to family, friends, LBD communities or a therapist for support.
- Exercise – Exercise reduces stress and can help improve physical and cognitive function.
- Play mind games – Aside from exercising your body, exercise your brain as well. Play memory games, puzzles and even card games.
- Consider non-medical treatments – Physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, individual and family psychotherapy can all be helpful.
These tips can help you and your loved ones cope with Lewy body dementia. The more your prepare yourself and the more you know, the better off you will be.
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