The tragic death of actor Robin Williams left many confused, wondering what could cause one of the greatest men in Hollywood to take his own life in 2014. A pathology report recently revealed, however, that prior to his death, Williams had suffered from diffuse Lewy Body dementia.
Read more about Lewy Body dementia and the effects it can have on people living with the disease.
A Difficult Diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy Body dementia (LBD) is one of the most common types of dementia that affects more than 1.4 million people in the United States. Specifically, 10-25% of all dementia cases.
However, it can be difficult to diagnose and many people who have it are initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition which Williams was also reportedly living with.
Symptoms of LBD frequently overlap with symptoms of other dementias as well as Parkinson’s and include:
- Visual hallucinations
- Hunched posture
- Memory loss
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Disorder
- Rigid muscles
- Trouble balancing
- Trouble initiating movement
Similar to other types of dementia, there is no single test to diagnose LBD, and no known cause or cure. Treatment options focus on controlling symptoms and can include cholinesterase inhibitors, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.
Lewy Body Dementia and Depression
Hallucinations and delusions are hallmarks of LBD, which Gayatri Devi, a neurologist and memory disorder specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says can be made worse by some Parkinson’s medications:
“Patients with Lewy Body disease can hallucinate on their own but [then] give them a Parkinson’s drug, and it can make hallucinations worse. Drugs used to treat hallucinations can cause symptoms of Parkinson’s,” she says.
Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider Williams, believes his dementia was the main factor in his suicide, saying, “It was not depression that killed Robin.” She continued:
“This was a very unique case and I pray to God that it will shed some light on Lewy bodies for the millions of people and their loved ones who are suffering with it. Because we didn’t know. He didn’t know.”
There is still much work to be done and so much more to understand about Lewy Body dementia.
Angela Taylor, programming director of the Lewy Body Dementia Association says, “Though his death is terribly sad, it’s an opportunity to inform people about this disease and the importance of early diagnosis.”
Lewy Body Dementia and Inappropriate Antipsychotic Prescriptions
Recently, Professor Clive Ballard, a leading researcher of LBD at the University of Exeter, added to the growing evidence that inappropriate medications and prescriptions can negatively impact people suffering from LBD, stating:
“Antipsychotic drugs given to dementia sufferers to treat behavioral disturbances has been found to increase the risk of death for people with Lewy body dementia fourfold, compared to one and a half times in people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Ballard continued, “When people have these reactions they develop very severe Parkinson’s symptoms and become very confused… Even if people do not die as a result of the syndrome, they may experience a steep decline in their condition which they usually do not recover from.”
He also stressed the importance of an early diagnosis , which can assist with some behavioral disturbances in those with the disease.
Do you have any personal experience with Lewy Body dementia? What sort of symptoms has it caused you or a loved one? We’d like ot hear your LBD stories in the comments below.
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- Lewy Body, the Other Dementia
- New Guidelines for Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia