‘He was very uncomfortable’: Robin Williams’ son Zak says the late actor was ‘frustrated’ over being misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
Robin Williams – who would have turned 70 today – was ‘frustrated’ with his health problems before finally taking his life in 2014, his son has revealed.
The legendary comedian had been unknowingly misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and actually suffered from Lewy body dementia – the second most common form of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease – his family discovered after his death.
“What I saw was frustration,” Zak, 38, host Max Lugavere told his podcast The genius life. ‘What he went through didn’t match one to one’ [with what] many Parkinson’s patients experience. So I think that was difficult for him.”
Speaking: Robin Williams’ son, Zak, says his father was ‘frustrated’ before he died due to his misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (Pictured, 2012)
Zak, a mental health advocate, continued, “There was a focus problem that frustrated him, there were issues related to how he felt, and also from a neurological perspective, he didn’t feel great,” adding: “He was very uncomfortable.’
Williams’ son also questioned the medications his father was taking, suggesting they may have worsened his overall health. “Those drugs are no joke,” he explained. “They are also very hard on the mind and body.”
“I couldn’t help but feel more than empathy. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated for him,” Zak continued. “It can be really isolating, even when you’re with family and loved ones.”
Tragedy: Robin Williams – who would have turned 70 today – was ‘frustrated’ with his health problems before finally taking his life in 2014, his son has revealed (Pictured, 2007)
Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline in mental abilities, and those affected may have visual hallucinations and changes in alertness and attention.
Zak also shared his experience dealing with the loss of his father and how it affected his mental health.
“I was drinking heavily to manage my mental health, where it was causing very harmful problems. For me personally, I had health problems. I had psychosis and when I spoke to a psychiatrist I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.
Add: ‘I was self-medicating from the trauma with alcohol.’
Zak, who is a father of two, sought help in a 12-step program and group therapy, which helped him.
WHAT IS LEWY BODY DEMENTIA?
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common form of degenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
It is the form Robin Williams took before committing suicide in 2014.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, LBD affects the areas of the brain responsible for vision – as opposed to memory.
That means patients may start out with amnesia, but over time the more debilitating symptoms will be powerful hallucinations, nightmares and spatial awareness problems.
LBD is closely linked to Parkinson’s disease, which means that many patients will also develop Parkinson’s – as happened to Robin Williams.
The most common symptoms include:
- Impaired thinking, such as loss of executive functions (planning, information processing), memory, or the ability to understand visual information.
- Fluctuations in cognition, attention, or alertness;
- Movement problems, including tremors, stiffness, slowness and difficulty walking
- Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there)
- Sleep disorders, such as making dreams come true during sleep
- Behavioral and mood symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions, or paranoia
- Changes in autonomic bodily functions, such as blood pressure regulation, temperature regulation, and bladder and bowel function.
HOW IT STARTS:
Many patients will first get Parkinson’s, who suffer from a physical disability, before doctors diagnose their dementia. That’s what happened to the late revered actor Robin Williams.
Some will start with amnesia that could be mistaken for the more common Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, they will develop symptoms more clearly associated with LBD.
WHAT CAUSES IT:
There is no known cause. What we do know is that the risk increases with age.
At the cellular level, LBD is characterized by tiny clumps of abnormal proteins produced by the brain when the cells are not working properly.
They cause memory problems, although these are usually not as severe as Alzheimer’s disease – which is linked to a build-up of the protein beta-amyloid.
Another key difference is that Lewy body dementia affects the areas of the brain responsible for vision, leading to powerful hallucinations, nightmares, and problems with spatial awareness.