- Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014 and an autopsy later revealed he had a form of dementia.
- But Williams had been misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years before his death.
- Williams’ son, Zak, said the misdiagnosis left his father “very uncomfortable” and “frustrated.”
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Robin Williams’ son Zak spoke at length about the neurological disease and the subsequent medical misdiagnosis that plagued the last years of his father’s life during a candid interview on Max Lugavere’s “The Genius Life” podcast.
Williams, who would have turned 70 on Wednesday, died by suicide in 2014 at the age of 63. Two years prior, Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. An autopsy following his death, however, found that the legendary actor had been misdiagnosed and actually had Lewy body dementia or LBD, a form of progressive dementia.
LBD shares several debilitating symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of progressive dementia, including memory loss, hallucinations, and anxiety. Zak told “The Genius Life” podcast that during Williams’ final two years, his father was left feeling frustrated by the effects of the disease and his diagnosis.
“What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with] many Parkinson’s patients experiences. So, I think that was hard for him,” Zak said on the podcast. “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. He was very uncomfortable.”
Zak thinks his father’s misdiagnosis “might have exacerbated the situation,” adding that the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s “are no joke.”
“They’re also really hard on the mind and the body,” he said. “The diagnosis was different than the disease so I think it could be a situation where you’re taking stuff and experiencing purely the side effects of [the drug].”
There is currently no known cure for LBD or any treatment that will slow down its progression. Zak told the podcast that his father’s symptoms intensified in the two years before his death, which he said heavily impacted the Oscar-winner’s ability to “perform his craft.”
“I don’t want to say it was a short period. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because it was a period for him of intense searching and frustration,” he said.
“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.”
LBD is caused by clumps of protein that build up in areas of the brain responsible for functions such as thinking, visual perception, and muscle movement, according to NHS.com.
Following Williams’ death in 2014, his widow Susan Schneider Williams penned an essay for the medical journal “Neurology” where she said that the medical professionals who had reviewed her husband’s last two years of medical records and brain scans said Williams’ case was “one of the worst LBD pathologies they had seen” and there was “nothing else anyone could have done.”
She wrote: “The massive proliferation of Lewy bodies throughout his brain had done so much damage to neurons and neurotransmitters that in effect, you could say he had chemical warfare in his brain.”