People with Lewy body dementia — the suspected diagnosis of Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita — can have memory loss, motor-function problems and hallucinations, but doctors don't have a foolproof way to detect it, the director of the Mayo Clinic's brain bank says.
"Lewy body dementia, it's a tweener — it's got part of Alzheimer's and part of Parkinson's," said Dr. Dennis Dickson, who has been professor of pathology and neurosciences at the Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville, Fla., campus since 1997.
"It's a real problem diagnosis. The medication that makes Alzheimer's better makes the Parkinson's worse ... and vice versa."
Mikita played hockey for 22 years. Dickson said that to his knowledge studies have found no connection between Lewy body dementia and the trauma of playing professional sports.
Lewy bodies — named for pioneering neurologist Frederick H. Lewy — are protein deposits that collect inside nerve cells in the brain, causing symptoms that are often mistaken for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. One in four diagnoses could be wrong, Dickson said.
LBD has some strong indicators such as hallucinations and severe sleep disorders, Dickson said.
"They'll act out their dreams," he said. "Normally, you don't move at all (during sleep), but they'll actually strike their bed partners. ... They'll hit and punch their bed partners, not knowing they're doing it because they're in a dream state."
Dickson said there's no way for doctors to be 100 percent certain Mikita has LBD while he's living. Some patients make arrangements to donate their brains to the brain bank posthumously.
"It's up to the individuals and their families," Dickson said. "Especially with uncommon disorders, some families like to have the closure of knowing the diagnosis. And it's invaluable for research."