Widow opens up: Robin Williams Widow

Published: November 4, 2015

Widow opens up: Robin Williams Widow, Comedian Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Williams, said she and her husband “were living a nightmare” in the months leading up to his death.

Williams said she’s spent the last year trying to get to the bottom of what led him to take his own life. Contrary to what most people think, she said, it wasn’t depression, nor was it a re-emergence of his longtime struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.

Robin Williams had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system; he’d been sober for eight years, his wife said.

What drove her husband to suicide, “was what was going on in his brain,” Williams said.

“The chemical warfare that no one knew about.”

That “chemical warfare” that doctors conducting Robin Williams’ autopsy discovered was Lewy body dementia.

Though not nearly as well-known (or talked about) as Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for more than half of dementia diagnoses in the United States, Lewy body dementia, or LBD, is the second most common type of progressive dementia.

Nearly 1.4 million Americans are known to have the disease, but because it’s a relatively “young disorder,” Angela Taylor, director of programming for the Lewy Body Dementia Association said, that number is likely much higher.

LBD is caused when normal proteins in the brain begin to aggregate, forming clumps called Lewy bodies that, as they spread, “muck up the ability for the brain to transmit signals,” said Dr. James Leverenz of the Cleveland Clinic.

Like Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms of LBD include cognitive problems like confusion, reduced attention span, and memory loss, Taylor said.

But LBD also affects a patient’s movements, as well as their mood, making it a “triple threat,” Taylor said.

“It’s not just memory, it’s not just movement, and it’s not just behavior. It’s a combination of all three, which makes it difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat,” Leverenz said.

Like a game of “whack-a-mole,” Robin Williams was wrought with a severe pain in his gut, sleeplessness and constipation, she said.

After months of heightened anxiety and paranoia about his health, Susan Williams said, Robin Williams felt a small “sense of relief” when he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in May 2014.

While Parkinson’s disease, which like Alzheimer’s has no cure, is hardly good news, Susan Williams said it was nice to have a possible answer for her husband’s seemingly “endless parade of symptoms.”

Parkinson’s, a nervous system disorder that affects movement, could be blamed for the tremor in Robin Williams’ left hand, but Susan Williams said it didn’t explain everything.

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