NOV 16, 2015 12:31 PM PST

Lewy Body Dementia: The Disease That Killed Robin Williams?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
2 12 2039

By current estimates, 1.4 million Americans are affected with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). Robin Williams, the famous actor and comedian, was apparently among the people affected. Though he died by suicide, William's autopsy revealed the presence of the underlying disease.

Lewy Body Dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's, but it's also frequently misdiagnosed for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. All three diseases share a common pathological etiology: the abnormal aggregation of alpha-synuclein proteins in the brain, the Lewy bodies. Though present in healthy individuals, the Lewy bodies become toxic when they form clusters in the brain, interfering with normal activities. The process by which the Lewy bodies form is still not fully known, but mutations in the SCNA gene are suspected to contribute to pathology.

In Parkinson's, the Lewy bodies are found in the brain stem and the Substantia Nigra, both brain locations that are responsible for muscle movement. Thus Parkinson's patients are afflicted with the characteristic muscle stiffness, tremors, and loss of coordination. In LBD, the protein clumps are found throughout the cerebral cortex, including the substantia nigra, which can bring on Parkinson's-like symptoms. Because the Lewy bodies are distributed throughout the brain, patients can suffer from additional symptoms, including hallucinations, loss of spatial reasoning, sleep irregularity, and cognitive and memory impairment.

According to Williams' widow, he did not suffer from any of the advanced symptoms of LBD at the time of his death. However, the early stages of LBD likely worsened his cognitive state.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 02, 2018
Technology
JUL 02, 2018
Video: Listen to Satellites With NASA Sound Art
The Orbit Pavilion Delivers Satellite Data as Sound
JUL 02, 2018
Videos
JUL 02, 2018
Watch SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship Dock with the International Space Station
Just as expected, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spaceship docked with the International Space Station on Monday to provide crew members with fresh food, supp
JUL 15, 2018
Videos
JUL 15, 2018
Can Animals Appreciate Music?
  Our appreciation of rhyme and rhythm might not be unique. Animals may also be music lovers. Using music studies done on crocodiles, the researchers
JUL 23, 2018
Videos
JUL 23, 2018
Why is the ocean getting louder?
 
JUL 30, 2018
Videos
JUL 30, 2018
Why Does Venus Spin In The Wrong Direction?
Scientists first discovered planet Venus as an inferno of acid rain. But, most uniquely, it was a planet that spins backward. In astronomy, backward spinni
AUG 01, 2018
Videos
AUG 01, 2018
Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Happen in the Summer
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a temporary mental condition where people feel sad or depressed because of the season and weather. It’s mos
Loading Comments...