TMZ reports that hallucinations caused by Lewy body dementia led to Robin Williams’ suicide. So what exactly is Lewy body dementia?
The man behind the disease
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, Inc., the history behind the name belongs to the scientist who discovered the Lewy body proteins. LBDA explains, “In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Lewy body dementia is marked by visual hallucinations in the form of objects, animals and people only seen by the sufferer. People with LBD exhibit disturbing behavior, such as having conversations with deceased loved ones. In the TMZ report, sources revealed that “Lewy Body Dementia was the ‘key factor’ they believe drove him to kill himself” and that “Williams‘ doctors agree that the disease was the critical factor leading to his suicide.”
Lewy body dementia is a cousin of Parkinson’s disease
While the cause of LBD is not known, the disease is tied to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The Mayo Clinic explains, “Lewy bodies often are present in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. People who have Lewy bodies in their brains also have the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Hallucinations are not the only hallmark of Lewy body dementia. It is also diagnosed with the presence of depression, sleep disorders, tremors and other movement symptoms consistent with Parkinson’s disease, nervous symptom malfunctions and memory and confusion issues that are typically seen in patients with Alzheimer’s.
Who is at risk?
Men age 60 and older and genetics (if a relative has suffered from the disease) seem to be the only consistent factors for acquiring the disease.
LBD is progressive and leads to severe dementia. People diagnosed with LBD are typically given about eight years to live.
There is no cure for Lewy body dementia
There is no cure for this debilitating disease, and doctors often prescribe the same type of drugs they would prescribe for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. These types of medicines include antipsychotic drugs, but sadly, some patients are extremely sensitive to these drugs and the symptoms may worsen.
TMZ also reported that after his death, Williams’ wife told authorities he had complained about the medications and how they made him feel. After learning more about this disease, we’re left to wonder if it was Lewy body dementia hallucinations, the medication or a combination of both that led to the tragic loss of one of Hollywood’s most talented actors and comedians.