Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a progressive condition. The average life expectancy after receiving a diagnosis appears to be 5–8 years. There is no cure for LBD, but treatment can manage the symptoms.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), how quickly the disease progresses will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and a person’s age and overall health.

LBD is a progressive disorder of the brain that occurs due to abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein that accumulate in different parts of the brain.

It typically first appears in people aged 50 years and older, but the symptoms can sometimes begin at a younger age.

Lewy body dementias affect an estimated 1.4 million individuals and their families in the United States.

LBD is the overarching term for two related conditions. If a person has LBD, they either have dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) or Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD).

This article discusses whether LBD is a fatal condition. It also looks at life expectancy after receiving a diagnosis and the treatment options that are available.

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LBD is fatal. The NIA notes that this is because it is progressive, and there is no cure. There is also no way to prevent the condition from progressing.

However, some medications can help manage some of the symptoms for a while.

It is not always LBD that causes a fatality. People can die from complications of LBD, such as falls or pneumonia.

According to the NIA, the time from diagnosis to death for people with LBD is an average of 5–8 years, but it can be in the range of 2–20 years for some individuals.

The National Library of Medicine states that the average life expectancy is 5–7 years.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) says that people live, on average, 6–12 years after their diagnosis but notes that some individuals live much longer than this.

According to the Lewy Body Dementia Resource Center, there are seven different stages in LBD:

  • Stage one: At this point, there is no cognitive decline, and the disease can be undetectable. A person may not have any symptoms.
  • Stage two: A person may experience very mild cognitive decline. They might become more forgetful, such as forgetting where they placed their car keys or forgetting someone’s name.
  • Stage three: When a person reaches stage three of LBD, they typically have symptoms of mild cognitive decline. These often include mild memory loss and a slightly reduced ability to concentrate. Friends and family may notice these symptoms.
  • Stage four: A person may experience moderate cognitive decline and begin to have difficulty with daily activities, such as managing finances. This is the stage at which most people receive a diagnosis. By this stage, healthcare professionals are able to diagnose cognitive decline clinically using an exam.
  • Stage five: A person may experience moderately severe cognitive decline. They may have major memory loss, and other people may find it challenging to understand them. They may be unable to remember things such as their address or phone number and will require help with many activities, including going grocery shopping and preparing meals.
  • Stage six: At this point, a person has severe cognitive decline. This stage lasts an average of 2.5 years. People will have significant memory loss and begin to lose their ability to speak. Their personality may appear to change, and they will often only be able to recall early memories.
  • Stage seven: A person with stage seven LBD typically shows a very severe cognitive decline. Individuals may lose their ability to communicate and walk.

The progression of the disease can vary from person to person, but stage seven typically lasts for 1.5–2.5 years before death occurs.

The treatment for LBD focuses on managing the symptoms, which can include:

  • problems with mental abilities, including judgment, language, understanding, memory, and thinking speed
  • hallucinations
  • challenges with movement, such as tremors and stiff limbs
  • disturbed sleep
  • depression
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fainting and unsteadiness
  • swings between being alert and being confused or sleepy

Learn more about Lewy body dementia and its symptoms.

The treatment options vary depending on individual circumstances, but they may include:

Medications

Different medications can treat certain symptoms of LBD, such as confusion, disturbed sleep, drowsiness, hallucinations, and movement problems.

A doctor may prescribe the following:

  • cholinesterase inhibitors to help manage the cognitive symptoms of LBD
  • levodopa to treat tremors and other Parkinson’s-like symptoms
  • melatonin and clonazepam to treat disturbed sleep
  • antidepressants to treat depression and anxiety in people with LBD

It is important to note, however, that doctors should use antipsychotic drugs with extreme caution in those with LBD. Up to 50% of people with LBD who are prescribed antipsychotic medications experience a severe adverse reaction, with the symptoms including:

  • confusion
  • low blood pressure, which can result in fainting
  • extreme sleepiness

In rare cases, neuroleptic malignant syndrome can occur, which includes the following symptoms:

  • high fever
  • muscle tissue breakdown
  • muscle rigidity

Therapies

Healthcare professionals may recommend a number of different therapies as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, depending on the person’s individual circumstances. These can include:

  • Lifestyle interventions: Lifestyle interventions are a form of treatment in which people make healthy, self-directed changes to their daily life. For LBD, these interventions typically include eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and remaining socially active.
  • Occupational therapists: These therapists teach people with LBD how to take care of themselves. Occupational therapy often includes exercises and activities that help people improve their skills and maintain their abilities.
  • Physical therapy: This form of treatment uses exercise, therapy, and self-care to restore mobility and reduce pain.
  • Speech therapists: These professionals can provide speech therapy to a person with a low voice volume, poor enunciation, low muscular strength, or problems swallowing.
  • Music therapy: Music may be an effective way to reduce anxiety and improve mood, but more research is necessary to confirm this.
  • Aromatherapy: Anecdotal evidence suggests that certain scents, such as lavender, peppermint, rosemary, and eucalyptus, may help lower anxiety levels.

Support groups may be a beneficial option for caregivers, friends, and family members of those with LBD.

LBD is a degenerative disease of the brain. The disease causes symptoms that include visual hallucinations, slowed movement, and muscle stiffness.

It is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. The average life expectancy is in the range of 2–20 years, but most people live for 5–8 years after receiving a diagnosis.

Although there is no cure for LBD, treatment can help manage the symptoms.