How Lewy Body Dementia Contributes to Depression and Hallucinations

The tragic death of actor Robin Williams left many sad and confused, wondering what could cause one of the greatest men in Hollywood to take his own life. A pathology report recently revealed, however, that prior to his death, Williams had diffuse Lewy Body dementia.

How Lewy Body Dementia Contributes to Depression and Hallucinations

Dan Steinberg/AP

A Difficult Diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body dementia (LBD) is one of the most common types of dementia that affects more than 1.4 million people in the United States. Specifically, 10-25% of all dementia cases.

However, it can be difficult to diagnose and many people who have it are initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition which Williams was also reportedly living with.

Symptoms of LBD frequently overlap with symptoms of other dementias as well as Parkinson’s and include:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Disorder
  • Trouble initiating movement
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Hunched posture
  • Rigid muscles
  • Trouble balancing

Similar to other types of dementia, there is no single test to diagnose LBD, and no known cause or cure. Treatment options focus on controlling symptoms and can include cholinesterase inhibitors, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.

Lewy Body Dementia and Depression

Hallucinations and delusions are hallmarks of LBD, which Gayatri Devi, a neurologist and memory disorder specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says can be made worse by some Parkinson’s medications:

“Patients with Lewy Body disease can hallucinate on their own but [then] give them a Parkinson’s drug, and it can make hallucinations worse. Drugs used to treat hallucinations can cause symptoms of Parkinson’s,” she says.

Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider Williams, believes his dementia was the main factor in his suicide, saying, “It was not depression that killed Robin.” She continued:

“This was a very unique case and I pray to God that it will shed some light on Lewy bodies for the millions of people and their loved ones who are suffering with it. Because we didn’t know. He didn’t know.”

There is still much work to be done and so much more to understand about Lewy Body dementia.

Angela Taylor, programming director of the Lewy Body Dementia Association says, “Though his death is terribly sad, it’s an opportunity to inform people about this disease and the importance of early diagnosis.”

Do you have any personal experience with Lewy Body Dementia? What sort of symptoms has it caused you or a loved one? Share your LBD stories with us in the comments below.

 

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