Robin Williams and the agony of Lewy Body Dementia

(Photo Credit: AP/Matt Sayles)
(Photo Credit: AP/Matt Sayles)

While it was announced in 2014 that Robin Williams was suffering from an undiagnosed case of Lewy Body Dementia, a disease causing memory loss and other neurological and physical symptoms, recent interviews with his wife discussing the severity of his symptoms highlights the need for better testing and diagnosis of this condition that afflicts 1.4 million Americans.

Lewy Body Dementia (also known as LBD or DLB, Dementia with Lewy bodies) is the second or third (experts disagree) most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The disorder is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms include changes and fluctuations in cognition and memory similar to Alzheimer’s, hallucinations, and the stiffness and movement problems seen in Parkinson’s. The similarities in the three disorders are extensive enough that it often takes a year or two — and multiple visits to specialists — to get an accurate diagnosis. The Lewy Body Dementia Association says that LBD is currently widely underdiagnosed and that many doctors and other medical professionals still are not familiar with the disease.

Robin William’s widow, Susan Williams, has gone public with this new information telling People Magazine and other news outlets that she thinks the symptoms associated with Lewy Body prompted Williams’ suicide in 2014.

People Magazine quoted Mrs. Williams as saying that the disease started taking its toll on Williams in the last year before his death with intense symptoms that included heightened levels of anxiety, delusions and impaired movement.

Mrs. Williams explained that her husband had “this endless parade of symptoms” since fall 2013, “and not all of them would raise their head at once. It was like playing Whac–a-Mole. Which symptom is it this month?”

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