We learned earlier this month, that the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease that Robin Williams had been given was not accurate, and that sometimes the only way to learn this is through an autopsy. It was announced by UVa Today on Thursday, that Matthew Barrett, an assistant professor in the University of Virginia Health System’s Department of Neurology,
When the very popular comedian and Oscar-winning actor died last year in August by taking his own life, many believed there may have been some issue with substance abuse or other complication of some sort, since it was so out-of-character with the man audiences have known and loved for decades. suicidal tendencies, as some had speculated in the media. Williams’ wife, Susan, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” this month that her husband slowly lost his mind because of a neurological disease, later discovered in an autopsy to be Lewy body dementia.
In early PD, Lewy bodies are generally limited in distribution, but in DLB, the Lewy bodies are spread widely throughout the brain, as was the case with Robin Williams.
Dr. Dickson, who has reviewed the autopsy and coroner’s report, further states, “Mr. Williams was given a clinical diagnosis of PD and treated for motor symptoms. The report confirms he experienced depression, anxiety and paranoia, which may occur in either Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies.” …
To receive a diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies, a person must have significant problems with thinking and memory that interfere with everyday life. …
It is not uncommon, however, for early signs of dementia to go undetected. The Mini Mental Status Exam – a common screening test for cognitive impairment and dementia used by many physicians – is not able to detect cognitive impairment in early DLB.
DLB and PD share many symptoms, but have different patterns of onset, progression and symptom severity. The most prominent and problematic clinical symptoms in early PD are related to movement, while in DLB they are more likely to be cognitive and psychiatric. However, over the course of both disorders, the symptoms become more and more alike
in an interview on ABC News with Amy Robach earlier this month, Robin’s wife Susan Schneider explains that many of his friends have second-guessed themselves wondering whether may have been something they could have done to prevent this great loss of such a creative artist who brought so much joy to so many:
“I know we did everything we could. … People have in passing will come …They would say to me, ‘God, I wish I had done something more for him. If only I had called him.’ And I’m thinking, ‘No one could have done anything more for Robin,’” she told Robach.
I just want everyone to know that. Nobody — no one– everyone did the very best they could. This disease is like a sea monster with 50 tentacles of symptoms that show when they want. It’s chemical warfare in the brain. And we can’t find it until someone dies definitively. There is no cure.”
The illness is named for Dr. Frederick H. Lewy. the neurologist who was the first person to discover in the early 1900s, that these unique characteristics that are present in the cells of the brain.
Dr. Matthew Barrett, explained that Lewy body dementia is a disease characterized by distinctive neurological “motor symptoms” that are quite noticeable and quite similar to Parkinson’s Disease. It is also an illness in which there is a progressive decline in cognitive skills:
In addition to dementia or progressive decline in cognitive abilities, patients frequently have motor symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, visual hallucinations and fluctuations in their level of attention and alertness. Parkinson’s disease symptoms may include tremor, slowed movements, stiffness and changes in gait and balance. Other symptoms that may occur include depression and movements during sleep.
According to Dr. Barrett, speaking with Uva’s Jane Kelly, Lewy body dementia is the second-most common cause of dementia. The most common cause of dementia is still Alzheimer’s disease. He explains how this particular malady is diagnosed deferentially, and how it is treated:
It is a clinical diagnosis based on the presence of dementia and two of the following three symptoms: Parkinson’s disease symptoms, visual hallucinations and fluctuations in level of attention and alertness. The presence of movements and vocalizations during sleep support the diagnosis.
Similar to other dementia syndromes, treatment is completely symptomatic. Certain medications can help the dementia, Parkinson’s disease symptoms and hallucinations. Medications are also helpful for treating depression and sleep disorders. For the Parkinson’s disease symptoms, there is a role for physical therapy.
As is true for other neurodegenerative diseases, there is evidence that aerobic exercise may slow the progression of the disease. Otherwise, there are currently no treatments that slow or reverse the disease process.
Unfortunately, Dr. Barrett explains that while there are benefits of various treatments that are available, the illness presents with a gradual diminishing of cognitive and motor function, with an average survival rate of eight years or so. Dr. Barrett’s work with involve the testing of a new treatment for the illness, which will be a part of several trials simultaneously.
It is fitting that the spotlight has now been drawn to the existence of this particular illness, so that there is a greater awareness of it, internationally, with a spokesperson who may be absent from everyday life, now, but the world can continue to experience the spark of his energy so long as there are still ways to replay his movies and television shows. Here’s some trivia from his page at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb):
Robin Williams used a specific hand salute – with his thumb touching (or near) his nose, as in “thumbing your nose” – in television appearances and movies, among them: Mork & Mindy (1978), I Love Liberty (1982), The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Toys (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Patch Adams (1998), The Night Listener (2006) and Night at the Museum (2006).
On the night his death was announced to the United Kingdom on the BBC News Channel, BBC Three had just broadcast the Family Guy (1999) episode where Peter Griffin wishes that everyone was Robin Williams, is struck by lightening and then has the power that everyone he touches turns into Robin Williams.