Dementia With Lewy Bodies: Diagnosis and Management for Primary Care Providers

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Objective: The purpose of this review is to aid primary care providers in distinguishing dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) from Alzheimer’s disease and from Parkinson’s disease with dementia. Differentiating these entities has important treatment implications.

Data Sources: A PubMed search was undertaken using the keywords Lewy body dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Lewy body disease. There were no date restrictions. Only articles in the English language were reviewed. References of selected articles were reviewed for additional sources.

Data Selection and Extraction: Initially, 2,967 articles were retrieved. All 3 authors participated in data selection and extraction. Articles were further selected for content specific to epidemiology, clinical presentation, diagnostic studies, treatment, and prognosis. For articles with repetitive information, the most current article was used. This resulted in a total of 62 articles included in the review.

Data Synthesis: Dementia with Lewy bodies is the second leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The core symptoms of DLB, including cognitive fluctuations, visual hallucinations, and parkinsonism, may not always be present as a triad, and clinicians may be unaware of associated symptoms. Thus, this diagnosis is frequently missed by primary care providers. Often, DLB is misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or a primary psychiatric illness. Treatments for DLB include cholinesterase inhibitors and N-methyl-d-aspartate antagonists. Antipsychotics should be avoided or used with caution.

Conclusions: Dementia with Lewy bodies is an often missed diagnosis. Symptoms are often attributed to other disorders. A high clinical suspicion is helpful in accurate diagnosis, and presence of any of the core symptoms should initiate clinical suspicion of DLB. Distinguishing DLB from other disorders has important treatment implications.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(5):doi:10.4088/PCC.11r01190

Submitted: March 31, 2011; accepted June 2, 2011.

Published online: October 27, 2011.

Corresponding author: Melanie Zupancic, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Division Medicine/Psychiatry, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, PO Box 19363, Springfield, IL 62794-9636 (

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(5):doi:10.4088/PCC.11r01190