Lewy Body Dementia (Dementia with Lewy Bodies)

Robin Williams and Lewy Body Dementia

"One of the doctors said, 'Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.' This was a very unique case and I pray to God that it will shed some light on Lewy bodies for the millions of people and their loved ones who are suffering with it, we didn't know. He didn't know.” - Susan Williams, in People magazine

We all knew Robin Williams. From Mork and Mindy to the Dead Poet's Society and Mrs. Doubtfire, he was both a great dramatic and comedic actor who also invaded our lives with frenetic late night television interviews. He died in an unexpected and sad way. And only then did we find that he suffered from Lewy Body dementia (LBD). After many months, his widow Susan Williams broke her silence to explain how his disease affected both their lives.

Quick GuideDementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and Aging Brains

Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and Aging Brains

Lewy body dementia facts*

*Lewy body dementia (LBD) facts Medically Edited by: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

  • Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a disease associated with abnormal deposits (Lewy bodies) of a protein called alpha–synuclein that occurs in the brain and results in problems with thinking, movements, behavior and mood; dementia can also occur.
  • Lewy body dementia occurs when Lewy bodies accumulate and affect chemicals in the brain that lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood. Dementia is a severe loss of these abilities, especially thinking, and is one of the most common causes of dementia after Alzheimer's disease and vascular disease.
  • Lewy bodies are deposits of abnormal protein in the brain that interfere with brain cell communication and may occur in several areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex, limbic cortex, hippocampus, midbrain, brainstem, and the olfactory pathways.
  • Those people that are affected are individuals that have LBD accumulate over time in the brain; early symptoms resemble diseases such as Alzheimer's and may occur alone or with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
  • The causes of Lewy body dementia are unknown – the reason why some people develop Lewy bodies in the brain is not clear.
  • Risk factors for LBD include age (most individuals are over the age of 50) Parkinson's disease, individuals with REM sleep disorders, and possibly some aspect of genetics although it's not normally considered a genetic disease.
  • There are two related types of Lewy body dementia, the first type is termed dementia with Lewy bodies in the second is termed Parkinson's disease dementia.
  • Lewy body dementia symptoms vary from person to person and include changes that may increase over time such as:
    • The ability to think ranging from decreases in memory and judgment to severe dementia
    • Unpredictable changes in cognitive functions
    • Hallucinations
    • Movement problems such as muscle rigidity and/or loss of coordination
    • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome
    • Alterations in behavioral and/or mood changes such as apathy, depression, and paranoia
    • Frequent falls
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Constipation
    • Other symptoms
    • Not all affected individuals develop symptoms to the same degree.
  • Clinicians and researchers use the "one year rule" to diagnose LBD. If cognitive symptoms appear within a year of movement problems diagnosis is dementia with Lewy bodies, but if cognitive problems develop more than a year after the onset of problems the diagnosis is Parkinson's disease dementia, and this diagnosis is usually done by a neurologist.
  • Treatment and management of LBD is best done by a team usually headed by a neurologist specializing in dementia and movement disorders to prescribe and suggest some or most of the following:
    • Medications to reduce symptoms
    • Surgery: A surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation may be used on some patients with Parkinson's disease dementia.
    • Physical therapy
    • Speech therapy
    • Occupational therapy
    • Mental health counselors
    • Support groups
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
Picture of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors