After Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body disease (LBD) is the second most common form of dementia, but it’s very difficult to diagnose. Now, thanks to a neuroscientist at Florida Atlantic University, a three-minute test can not only detect LBD but also just as effectively diagnose Parkinson’s disease dementia. The test has a nearly 97 percent accuracy in distinguishing between LBD and Alzheimer’s disease, which doctors commonly mistake.

"Most patients never receive an evaluation by a neurologist skilled in the diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, and significant delays and misdiagnoses occur in most patients with this disease," said Dr. James E. Galvin, a professor of clinical biomedical science in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, in a press release. "This new tool has the potential to provide a clearer, more accurate picture for those patients who are unable to be seen by specialists, hastening the correct diagnosis and reducing the strain and burden placed on patients and caregivers."

Galvin’s “Lewy Body Composite Risk Score” consists of a brief rating scan that can be completed by a doctor to assess symptoms that are in line with LBD quickly. If they have rigid or unstable posture, a resting tremor, or a slowness or weakness in their movements, Galvin’s test can detect LBD without having to measure the degree of the disease’s severity, which is what made previous tests take longer to perform and with less accuracy.  

The test was given to real patients in clinics with a mix of different genders, education levels, and a wide range of symptoms of disease progressions. Being able to differentiate between LBD and Alzheimer’s is key, because the two conditions manifest in similar ways and can be hard for doctors to detect when it’s early on. It affects an estimated 1.4 million people in America, and many doctors and medical professionals are not familiar with all of its characteristic symptoms. It can take more than a year or two for doctors to diagnose LBD, and early diagnosis can mean the difference between an extended quality of life with independence and being entirely dependent on a caregiver. 

Like Alzheimer’s, LBD usually begins to show symptoms between the ages of 50 and 85 and in some cases much earlier. According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, at first, people with LBD may respond well to certain dementia medications. But over time people win up responding poorly and end up worse off than people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and are sometimes left with dangerous and even permanent side effects.

"Early detection of Lewy body dementias will be important to enable future interventions at the earliest stages when they are likely to be most effective," Galvin said. Their findings go beyond just earlier treatments but are expected to improve and expedite clinical trials for future studies on LBD, and help advance LBD biomarker research for genetic testing.

Source: Galvin JE, et al. Improving The Clinical Detection Of Lewy Body Dementia With The Lewy Body Composite Rick Score. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015.