The Relationship Between Lewy Body Dementia and Incontinence

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January 14, 2018
When news broke that actor and comedian Robin Williams showed signs of diffuse Lewy body disease, it sparked new interest and coverage in the condition, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). Read on to learn what it is and how it can be managed until a cure can be found.

What is Lewy body dementia?

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a progressive brain disorder that affects behavior, cognition and movement. LBD is an umbrella term for two closely related clinical diagnoses: Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). 

LBD causes are not yet fully understood. Multiple factors might make someone susceptible to LBD, including genetic and environmental risk factors combined with natural aging processes. Symptoms can include impaired thinking and memory, changes in sleep and behavior, problems with physical movement, and even hallucinations. 

Doctors use patient history, examination, and possibly blood tests and brain scans to rule out other causes of dementia. LBD cannot be diagnosed with absolute certainty except through an autopsy, so any diagnosis is “probable.”

Dementia and incontinence

Patients diagnosed with dementia have three times the rate of diagnosis of urinary incontinence and four times the rate of fecal incontinence, according to a study published last year in PLOS Medicine, a journal of the Public Library of Science. 

When patients have trouble recognizing physical urges or remembering where a bathroom is located, it can contribute to bladder or bowel incontinence. Here are some tips for helping a loved one cope with dementia and incontinence:
  • Provide regular reminders of where a bathroom is located and encourage a regular schedule.
  • Ensure the path to the bathroom is well lit and free of obstacles.
  • Provide visual cues, such as painting the bathroom door a contrasting color and posting a toilet sign on the door.
  • Ensure clothing is easy to remove, with no complicated belts or buttons.
  • Encourage a loved one to cut back on fluids before bedtime or long trips, but never withhold fluids, which can lead to dangerous dehydration.
For more information on this frequently misdiagnosed form of dementia, including a diagnostic symptoms checklist, brochures and support, visit the Lewy Body Dementia Association. LBDA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the Lewy body dementias, supporting people with LBD and their families and caregivers, and promoting scientific advances.