Robin Williams’ autopsy discovered Lewy body dementia

Robin Williams’ autopsy discovered Lewy body dementia

During a recent ABC interview, Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Williams, announced that Lewy body dementia was what ultimately led to his suicide in August 2014.

The comedian’s past was filled with drugs and alcohol abuse, which many assumed to be related to his death, but his autopsy revealed no drugs or alcohol in his system. Instead, they found protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, which develop in nerve cells in regions of the brain involved in thinking, memory and movement.

The presence of these Lewy bodies in combination with Parkinson’s disease symptoms are what signifies a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.

According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the disease affects an estimated 1.4 million individuals and their families in the U.S. Since the symptoms of this form of dementia look similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, many people are misdiagnosed. Due to its complicated nature, it can take years before enough symptoms present themselves in order to be properly diagnosed.

In Robin Williams’ case, he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s in May of 2014 and, according to Susan Williams, also experienced heightened anxiety, paranoia and hypochondria leading up to his death.

Dr. Thomas Burnstine, a neurologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., says anxiety, paranoia and hypochondria are common signs of Lewy body dementia.

“Some of the symptoms of Lewy body dementia are impairment of ability to think logically, mood disturbances, hallucinations and early Parkinson’s symptoms,” says Dr. Burnstine. “Some of these symptoms, such as hallucinations, show up much earlier for Lewy body dementia than in Alzheimer’s patients.”

Dr. Burnstine adds that depression, apathy and social withdrawal are common in people with a dementia diagnosis.

However, with early treatment and support many people can extend quality of life and independence, whether diagnosed with Lewy body dementia or other dementias.

If you have a loved one with dementia, Dr. Burnstine suggests supporting them in the following ways:

  • Maintaining physical and mental activity
  • Certain diets can be helpful such as the Mediterranean Diet
  • Getting full nights of sleep
  • Controlling other illnesses that affect blood vessels such as hypertension and cholesterol
  • Taking medications that are proven to help and prescribed by the physician

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.