Examining the mechanisms underpinning visual hallucinations in dementia with Lewy bodies



Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the third most common cause of dementia, affecting over 100,000 people in the UK alone. In addition to memory problems, people with DLB also commonly experience visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and may also go on to develop the movement problems seen in Parkinson’s disease.

Visual hallucinations can increase stress, both for people with dementia and those who care for them and can increase an affected person’s need for full-time care. A better understanding of the brain changes underpinning hallucinations will help to improve how this complex symptom is both detected and managed in DLB and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Angelika Zarkali at the University College London aims to understand the mechanisms underpinning visual hallucinations in both DLB and Parkinson’s disease. Her work has the potential to identify targets for potential drugs that could treat visual hallucinations in dementia.

The overarching aim of the study is to determine the mechanisms that cause hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease and DLB. Dr Zarkali will work with people who have DLB and compare how those with and without hallucinations interpret a series of complex, two-tone images.

The research team will then compare brain structure of people who hallucinate with those that do not. Using MRI brains scans from 105 people with Parkinson’s disease and 35 healthy individuals, Dr Zarkali will test to see if there are differences in the way brain areas are connected up in people who experience hallucinations and people who don’t.

Finally, Dr Zarkali, will use a big data approach to look at over 1,000 brain MRI scans of people with Parkinson’s disease and DLB who hallucinate. A better understanding of the brain changes associated with symptoms in DLB will help in more accurate diagnosis and estimation of disease progression and also help guide the development of preventative and personalised medicine for the disease.

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Awarded to
Dr Angelika Zarkali

University College London

Current Award

7 August 2018 - 7 August 2019

Full project name
Neural Mechanisms of Visual Hallucinations in Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson's Disease Dementia