Robin Williams Illness: The Undiagnosed Dementia He Never Knew He Had

Robin Williams would have celebrated his 70th birthday on July 21. Not only did Williams raise awareness of Lewy Body Dementia but his death also highlighted the importance of mental health, as well as the non-movement symptoms that can accompany a neurodegenerative disease, like despair and anxiety.

Lewy Body Dementia: What Have We Learned Seven Years After His Death? What can we do to help those suffering from suicidal thoughts due to a neurological disease?

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

At an early stage, cognitive impairment is a symptom of Lewy body dementia (LBD), which is also called Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB). A diagnosis can also be made if the onset of cognitive decline and motor symptoms coincides.

Jennifer G. Goldman, MD, MS, section chief of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and a Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, a Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease, said that Lewy Body Dementia is a common type of dementia—it is the second most common neurodegenerative dementia behind Alzheimer’s. “

It is estimated that 1.4 million people in the United States are affected by this, yet it is not commonly known.” We can begin to change that environment with more education and awareness of Lewy Body Dementia, which includes both Dementia with Lewy Body and Parkinson’s disease (PD) dementia. “

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What is the difference between Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s disease dementia?

Both Parkinson’s disease dementia and Lewy Body Dementia are referred to as Lewy Body Dementia. They share some characteristics, but their course and treatment are distinct.

Parkinson’s disease can cause cognitive abnormalities in many people, however, it is crucial to note that not all Parkinson’s sufferers will acquire dementia. According to Dr. Goldman, “when we find more severe cognitive abnormalities, particularly when they affect someone’s function or capacity to act independently for activities of daily living, their work or hobbies,” we consider it a form of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

A person with Parkinson’s dementia is more likely to experience motor symptoms first. There are cognitive alterations early in dementia with Lewy Body, and if motor characteristics are present they occur either after or concurrently with the onset of dementia,” stated Dr. Goldman.

Fight For a Diagnosis

It was previously reported that Robin Williams was suffering from paranoia, confusion, insomnia, constipation, and a loss of smell before he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. Lewy Body Dementia can be difficult to identify because of the vast range of early symptoms, not all of which are connected to brain function.

Dr. Goldman encourages patients to pursue their diagnoses. Dr. Goldman advised patients to keep looking for answers and seek the advice of an expert to find out what is causing their cognitive difficulties or form of dementia. One’s treatment, prognosis, and eligibility for participation in research projects can be altered by the correct doctor. For the greatest possible outcomes, it is critical to have a thorough grasp of the disease.”

Depression and Suicide

According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February 2020, people with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s are more likely to commit suicide. LBD and Parkinson’s disease share a common symptom: depression.

Comprehensive, team-based therapy for Parkinson’s patients, including a mental health professional, is most beneficial. Any time sadness or suicide thoughts creep into your mind, you’ll have someone to turn to who you know and trust. A mental health expert can be a valuable asset to your team at any point in the treatment process.

If you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts:

Make use of the resources that are available to you:

Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (toll-free) or another 24-hour suicide prevention hotline may be of assistance.

Speak with a specialist:

Look for a professional you can rely on, such as a psychologist, therapist, counselor, or social worker.

Stay involved: People with Parkinson’s disease may find it simple to alienate themselves from others. Engage with loved ones, set up frequent phone calls, and look into joining a support group or wellness class.

Recruit your team of backers:

At 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636), the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline, you can ask for help in finding a local or online support group.
Learn about the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help if you’re a family member or care partner.

Ongoing Hope

Treating Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia is possible. Incorporating medication, physical and mental exercises, and a mental health expert into a patient’s care plan has proven to be the most beneficial strategy for health care providers.

Dr. Goldman added, “There is a lot of study going on in Lewy Body Dementia.” Although Parkinson’s disease dementia and Lewy body share similar clinical signs and pathology, researchers are trying to figure out why it develops.

A wide range of studies are being conducted, from trying to anticipate or detect early changes in persons who might acquire Lewy Body Dementia, to exploring various therapies, from drugs to newer trials beginning to look at the functions of mental and physical activities.”

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