‘He was very uncomfortable’: Robin Williams’ son Zak says the late actor was ‘frustrated’ due to misdiagnosis with Parkinson’s disease
Robin Williams – who would have turned 70 today – was ‘frustrated’ with his health struggles before he ultimately took his life in 2014, his son has revealed.
The legendary comedian had unknowingly been misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and was actually suffering from Lewy body dementia – the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s – his family found out after his death.
‘What I saw was frustration,’ Zak, 38, told host Max Lugavere on his podcast The Genius Life. ‘What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with what] many Parkinson’s patients experience. So, I think that was hard for him.’
Speaking out: Robin Williams’ son Zak says his father was ‘frustrated’ before he passed due to his misdiagnosis with Parkinson’s disease (Pictured, 2012)
Zak, who is a mental health advocate, continued: ‘There was a focus issue that frustrated him, there were issues associated with how he felt and also from a neurological perspective he didn’t feel great,’ and added: ‘He was very uncomfortable.’
Williams’ son also questioned the medication that his father was put on, suggesting they may have made his overall health worse. “Those drugs are no joke,’ he explained. ‘They’re also really hard on the mind and the body.’
‘I couldn’t help but feel beyond 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 struggles before he ultimately took his life in 2014, his son has revealed (Pictured, 2007)
Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline in mental abilities, and those affected might have visual hallucinations and changes in alertness and attention.
Zak also shared his experience with dealing the loss of his father, and how it impacted his mental health.
‘I was heavily drinking to manage my mental health where it created very harmful issues. For me personally, I was having health issues. I was experiencing some psychosis and when I spoke with a psychiatrist I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,’ he said.
Adding: ‘I was self-medicating through the trauma using alcohol.’
Zak, who is a father of two, went on to seek help in a 12-step program as well as 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.
It is the form Robin Williams was diagnosed with before he took his own life in 2014.
Unlike Alzheimer’s, LBD affects the brain regions responsible for vision – as opposed to memory.
That means sufferers may start with memory loss, but over time the more debilitating symptoms will be powerful hallucinations, nightmares and spatial-awareness problems.
LBD is closely connected to Parkinson’s disease, meaning that many sufferers will develop Parkinson’s as well – as happened to Robin Williams.
The most common symptoms include:
- Impaired thinking, such as loss of executive function (planning, processing information), memory, or the ability to understand visual information.
- Fluctuations in cognition, attention or alertness;
- Problems with movement including tremors, stiffness, slowness and difficulty walking
- Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not present)
- Sleep disorders, such as acting out one’s dreams while asleep
- Behavioral and mood symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions or paranoia
- Changes in autonomic body functions, such as blood pressure control, temperature regulation, and bladder and bowel function.
HOW IT STARTS:
Many sufferers will first develop Parkinson’s, suffering physical disabilities, before doctors diagnose their dementia. That is what happened to the late revered actor Robin Williams.
Some will start with memory loss 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 risk increases with age.
At a cellular level, LBD is characterized by tiny clumps of abnormal proteins produced by the brain when its cells are not working properly.
They cause memory problems, although these don’t tend to be as severe as with Alzheimer’s — which is linked to a build-up of the protein beta-amyloid.
Another key difference is that Lewy body dementia affects regions of the brain responsible for vision, causing powerful hallucinations, nightmares and spatial-awareness problems.