The silent assault on Robin Williams’ brain


By pH health care professionals

Susan Schneider Williams, widow of actor Robin Williams, discussed her husband’s dementia due to Lewy body disease in a letter published in the journal Neurology. What exactly is Lewy body disease? How did he get it? And could it have been prevented?

Williams was initially told that he had Parkinson’s disease. Neurologists haven’t exactly sorted out all the differences between Lewy body disease dementia and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Williams actually had features of both, and had a stunning number of the telltale Lewy bodies — abnormal structures in the brain — at the time of autopsy.

Patients with Lewy bodies usually have a history of:

  • Changes in alertness and attention

  • Hallucinations

  • Problems with movement and posture

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Confusion

  • Loss of memory

These symptoms can vary widely. In Williams’ case, his wife noticed a lot of anxiety and paranoia that he didn’t have before. His memory problems were dramatic, as he forgot lines for the first time.

The following are risk factors for the disease:

  • Age over 60

  • Being male

  • Having a family member with Lewy body dementia or Parkinson's disease

  • Depression

If you have had a family member with any kind of dementia, it’s wise to do things to prevent dementia, like avoiding concussions and contact sports, engaging in intellectual activities, taking fish oil, and exercising. Your doctor can conduct quick memory tests to determine how your brain is functioning. If you have depression, take steps to get it treated. Here are some resources.

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