Alzheimer’s disease is only one cause of dementia
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Three women who were in high school at the same time I was have died of Lewy body dementia. Do only women have it? No one I have talked to knows anything about it. I would appreciate any information you can provide. — L.P.
Dementia is a decline in mental functioning. Memory loss is prominent. Simple arithmetic skills (balancing a checkbook), expressing oneself clearly and logically, and making rational judgments are greatly diminished in a person with dementia. “Dementia” is an umbrella word that covers the loss of these basic mental functions. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, but it is not the sole cause. Multiple small strokes, Binswanger’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and frontotemporal dementia are other causes. Second to Alzheimer’s as a cause is dementia with Lewy bodies.
Lewy bodies, named in honor of the pathologist Dr. Friedrich Lewy, who first described them, are blobs of peculiar material within brain cells. They stain a striking color when special dye is applied to brain tissue viewed with a microscope. Somehow they bollix up brain function.
Definite proof of dementia with Lewy bodies rests on microscopic examination of the brain after death. However, some unique signs of this illness make it diagnosable during life. In addition to the symptoms of dementia, Lewy body patients often see things that aren’t there — visual hallucinations. They have symptoms found in Parkinson’s disease — muscle rigidity, slow movement, walking disturbances with frequent falls. Patients have fluctuating alertness, periods of lucidity intermixed with longer periods of utter confusion.
Men as well as women get this illness.
What causes it is a question that remains unanswered.
Sometimes drugs used for Alzheimer’s disease improve symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies. Parkinson’s drugs are prescribed to lessen the features of that illness, but they do not work as well as they do in Parkinson’s disease.
The booklet on Alzheimer’s disease delves into the signs and treatment of that all-too-prevalent illness. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 903, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For several weeks I have had a discharge from my navel. In the beginning, it had a foul odor, but now it is only discolored and sometimes bloody.
I am too embarrassed to go to my doctor. — Anon.
Anon, you should not be too embarrassed to see your doctor about anything, and certainly not this. A likely explanation is an infection of the skin of the navel (bellybutton). It happens, as do skin infections in other places. You are not going to cure this without your doctor’s help.
Other conditions can also cause such a discharge. An abscess within the abdominal cavity can, as can anatomic abnormalities that have been present from birth but have not manifested themselves until now.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am confused as well as concerned. You state that it’s almost impossible to overdose on potassium from food and drink. I suffer from renal insufficiency and have been advised that my potassium needs to be controlled with a very restricted diet. — R.S.
I was talking about the population of otherwise healthy people, not those with kidney disease. Kidney-failure patients have to watch their intake of potassium, and often other nutrients, like protein. I asked the writer to call the doctor to clarify the issue — whether she was indeed healthy or whether she suffered from illnesses in which potassium restriction was part of treatment: kidney disease, adrenal gland disease or taking medicines that raise the potassium level.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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