Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Williams' Dementia Type Called Highly Debilitating

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Williams' Dementia Type Called Highly Debilitating

Article excerpt

It is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's, say local neurologists - and perhaps the least known.

That is, until this week, when the widow of actor Robin Williams revealed the late star was suffering from Lewy body dementia, in which the onset of hallucinations is swift and the nightmarish spiral to certain death is even swifter.

The mental gymnastics Williams' mind exercised in creating characters both on stage and screen probably couldn't hold a candle to the cruel tricks Lewy would play on him in the end, judging by the way North Jersey neurologists describe the disease, which sounds like a sped-up version of Alzheimer's.

"It is very debilitating, very misunderstood, and very misdiagnosed," says Dr. Monica Chavez, attending physician of internal and geriatric medicine at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck.

In Lewy body dementia, protein deposits called Lewy bodies develop in nerve cells in regions of your brain involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control). "The patients have similar symptoms to that of Parkinson's disease, in the very beginning - tremors, falls, stiffness in the body. Then come early onset hallucinations - very fearful hallucinations. The person gets paranoid. Depressed," Chavez says.

One of the biggest problems is that Lewy body dementia will often be misdiagnosed as Parkinson's at first, according to Chavez. Medications used to treat Parkinson's, however, actually inflame the symptoms of Lewy body dementia. So if you are misdiagnosed and treated for Parkinson's, it can make things much worse.

"Parkinson's medications are absolutely deleterious for this type of dementia. So it is very important to get a proper diagnosis early. A bad diagnosis can be even more stressful for the patient and the caregiver ... Unfortunately, there is no one definitive test. The only one is at autopsy, when they can find an abnormal protein in the brain."

It was only at autopsy that Williams - who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's months before his death -- was confirmed to have had Lewy body.

His wife, Susan Williams, went public with the diagnosis this week, saying that it wasn't depression that drove him to suicide as many thought, but Lewy body. …

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