Robin Williams & Lewy Body

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpEYmIQbWro?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://safe.txmblr.com&wmode=opaque&w=540&h=304]

WARNING: Video has some explicit language

Comedian Robert “Bobcat” Goldthwait talks to comedian Joe Rogan about his late friend, Robin Williams. Bobcat spent a lot of time with Robin, even after Robin’s Dementia with Lewy Bodies set in. He suggests that what killed Robin was not his depression, but rather, the DLB. Robin committed suicide in August 2014.

Let’s talk about Robin Williams. I was upset in 2014 to find out that Robin had killed himself, and really, it was a huge surprise to me. Like most people, I assumed it was depression—until I found out more. 

I want to review some things that we know about Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and put it in the context of Robin’s suicide:

  • Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Dementia with Lewy Bodies, although his friend Bobcat suggested that he was originally misdiagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease. 
    • This makes sense. Lewy Body Diseases are actually a group of related diseases: Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Parkinson’s, and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. People with Dementia with Lewy Bodies often have some Parkinsonian symptoms.
  • “You’d have a lot of days where [Robin] would be doing a lot of OCD stuff, and processing things incorrectly. And then you’d have a day where he’d be back.”
    • This is also very normal of people who have Dementia with Lewy Bodies. People with DLB tend to have what’s called “fluctuating impairment,” where you see them swing from doing very well to doing very poorly within a couple days. One of my residents with DLB was exactly like this: she’d be doing great, with barely any issues, and then one day she’d be unable to even get herself dressed.
  • “His brain was giving him misinformation. People die from depression, but that’s not what killed him. He was really getting misinformation from his brain, and that’s what killed him.”
    • I think that this is the most important thing that Bobcat says. It wasn’t depression that killed Robin, it was the fact that his brain was not working correctly due to DLB. 
  • “I did witness him thinking things that weren’t real, or weren’t happening.”
    • People with DLB tend to hallucinate. They will actually see or hear things that are not there. Although it appears that Bobcat is talking about delusions here, he suggests that what Robin was experiencing wasn’t really happening in the world around him.

This is a really important diagnosis to talk about. Robin Williams is the only person with DLB that I have really heard about in the last few years. As Bobcat says in the video, “I want a spotlight put on the disease that actually, in my mind, was responsible for his demise.”

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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