What is Lewy body dementia? Causes, symptoms, treatment

TW: This article contains mentions of suicide. Please proceed thoughtfully.

Today marks the eighth anniversary of Robin Williams’ death. The legendary comedian and actor committed suicide in 2014 at the age of 63. Williams suffered from depression and was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which played a role in the “frustration” and discomfort Williams felt in life, according to his son Zak Williams who spoke last year . on genius life podcast on misdiagnosis. It was later discovered after the comedian’s death that he actually had Lewy body dementia.

The brain disease has impacted Williams’ thinking, memory and movement control, which has hampered both his career and his family life, his son said on the podcast. “There was a focus issue that frustrated him, there were issues with how he felt and also from a neurological standpoint he didn’t feel well,” he says.

“What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with what] many patients with Parkinson’s,” Zak said. “So I think it was tough for him.”

So why was Williams misdiagnosed? According to experts, there are many similarities between Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. Keep reading to learn more about Lewy body dementia, including causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is Lewy body dementia?

According to Mayo Clinic. Progressive dementia results in a decline in thinking, reasoning, independent function, and can include changes in attention, visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and slow movement.

Dementia with Lewy bodies “causes some or all of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease”, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, which could have contributed to Williams’ misdiagnosis. Symptoms such as tremors, fluctuating cognition, and movement difficulties all overlap. Alzheimer Association (AA) says the diseases could be linked to the same underlying brain abnormalities.

How is dementia with Lewy bodies diagnosed?

According the national institute on aging (NIA), research is underway to diagnose Lewy body dementia earlier in life, but currently the only way to definitively confirm it is to perform a brain autopsy after death. What doctors can do is use your current signs and symptoms to rule out other conditions. Yet in the early stages, dementia with Lewy bodies is difficult to distinguish from Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Most people diagnosed with Lewy body dementia are over 60, and it’s more common in men, according to the Mayo Clinic, which put Williams in the higher risk category as he was 63 when he died. A family history of the disease also increases the likelihood of developing Lewy body dementia, although it is not considered a genetic condition.

Can Lewy body dementia be treated or cured?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for Lewy body dementia, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms, says the NIA. Behavioral and mood changes worsen as thinking skills decline, making depression, apathy, restlessness, paranoia, and delusions common. Some Alzheimer’s disease medications and Parkinson’s disease medications can be used to treat symptoms. Non-drug approaches can also be helpful. Certain lifestyle changes, such as altering your environment and creating daily routines, may also help relieve symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is recommended to work with both a neurologist specializing in dementia, in addition to a counselor to offer emotional support.

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