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The dementia with Lewy bodies (LBD, for its acronym in English), of which the famous actor Robin Williams was a victim, is a neurodegenerative disorder in which protein deposits accumulate (called Lewy bodies after neurologist Frederick Lewy) in the brain.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the forms of dementia are multiple and diverse and although Alzheimer’s is the most common form, there are other frequent forms such as vascular dementia, Lewy bodies and a group of diseases that can contribute to frontotemporal dementia (degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain).
In the case of renowned actor and comedian Robin Williams, the pathology was only discovered by autopsy on his brain after his passing in August 2014. “A few months before he died, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” said his wife, Schneider Williams.
However, Schneider explained that this result was only the tip of the iceberg since none of the doctors knew that there was a “ghost disease” behind it. “When that was revealed, It was essentially like finding out the name of my husband’s killer.. We had this experience with something that was invisible and terrifying, really. And then, on the other hand, I am left to discover the underlying science that helped explain this experience. Robin wasn’t crazy. That was one of his biggest fears.”
Dementia is a silent enemy
As revealed by neurologist James Leverenz, a professional at the Cleveland Clinic, dementia is the development of a change in thinking that affects daily functioning. “While memory loss is the most well-known symptom of dementia, people with LBD don’t necessarily experience that early on. They often have more information about the physical and mental changes they are experiencing compared to people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
In addition, it highlights that there are five main signs of LBD: mental slowing (slowing down), visual hallucinations, parkinsonism, fluctuations and sleep disturbances. “It becomes problematic when people start to believe their visual hallucinations are true,” says Dr. Leverenz.
Victims of this disease may do pointless things like call the police or cannot fall asleep because they are afraid. Paranoia and depression are signs of LBD, something that Schneider Williams noticed in her husband. “It was the amygdala region of her brain that had a huge number of Lewy bodies. So that area of the brain is really our ability to regulate our emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. And Robin’s was basically broken.”
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