The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Where's the Rage?

“Where’s the rage? Why is the medical community so unaware aware all of those LBD drug issues? Why do I have to be the one who stands against the system and demand the care my wife needs? What happens to those who don’t have someone as assertive—and knowledgeable—as I am to stand up for them? Why don’t the professionals KNOW? They are supposed to be the ones with the training.”

Bill came up to me after our presentation, asking these questions—obviously feeling the rage himself and wanting to know why it wasn’t endemic. Actually, medical personnel ARE better trained than they were ten years ago. In 2002, most primary physicians had not even heard of LBD. Now they usually know about it although they may not be able to identify it or may still believe that since “all dementias are treated alike”, it is not necessary to know just what kind you have.

Spreading the word about any new disease is a long, painful process. I read somewhere that it takes 20 years for a disease to become known to the general public—and, I suspect, to be more than mentioned off-handedly in medical schools. LBD was only identified as a disease in 1996. That means it still has at least four years of relative invisibility. Often more.

I mentioned this to Bill. “But Lewy bodies have been known for many years,” he returned. Yes, since 1912, but then, only as something that was present with Parkinson’s disease. Japan’s Dr. Kosaka finally connected Lewy bodies with dementia in the mid 1980’s. But it was considered no more than a “rare disorder” until a group of specialists got together and agreed upon a set of diagnostic criteria in 1996.

In 2003, LBD awareness got another big boost. Jim Whitworth and four other caregivers founded the Lewy Body Dementia Assn. They felt Bill’s rage and wanted what he wanted—more awareness about LBD in the medical community and more support for LBD caregivers. The LBDA is almost nine years old now and it has become a strong national organization. Its efforts to advocate for awareness and caregiver support have had results, albeit, not always for the individual caregiver to see. 

In 2005, dementia and movement specialists agreed that dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), which starts with dementia, and Parkinson’s disease with dementia (PDD) were closely related, with similar causes and cognitive symptoms. Lewy body dementia became an umbrella term for both. Until then, half of our LBD loved ones were not recognized as having those same drug issues. Research shows that drug sensitivities actually do get worse for the PD patient when dementia appears. Another step forward.

In 2008, our first book, Riding a Rollercoaster with Lewy Body Dementia came out, the first comprehensive, easy-to-read book about LBD. In it, caregivers often found the help they needed to take their concerns to the medical community. In 2010 A Caregiver's Guide to Lewy Body Dementia replaced this book.  We are honored to have this place in the history of LBD. We continue to teach, and, like Bill, our focus is on the medical community--especially the hands-on caregivers, the ones who care for our loved ones when we no longer can. If you want your caregivers to be more Lewy-savvy, refer their supervisors to us--we'd love to provide them with some training!  

Some of the latest advances have been in the area of earlier diagnosis. As of 2009, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) has been divided into two types, amnesiac and non-amnesiac. The latter includes less—or no—memory loss along with the decline of executive functions (planning, organizing, etc.). However, it still doesn’t include impairment of social functions, i.e., the problems that delusions bring very early in the LBD journey. We still have a ways to go with this!

Most recently, in 2011, LBD became one of the 100+ Compassionate Allowance diseases, cutting application time for SSA claims down to as little as a few weeks—instead of the months, or even years that it was previously. This doesn’t change the medical community’s awareness of LBD’s problems, but it sure does help caregivers who are running out of funds.

Yes, Bill, things are changing. More people, more medical personnel, even primary physicians, are becoming aware of LBD, even if they still don’t really know how to identify it—or treat it. And yes, the progress is awfully slow—much slower than we’d like. We’ll have to keep on doing our own research and being strong advocates for our loved ones for a while yet. 

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