Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease when he took his own life this week, according to his widow.
“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider, said in an e-mailed statement.
The actor’s body was discovered by a personal assistant on Aug. 11 at his home in Tiburon, California. He had hanged himself with a belt, according to authorities.
Williams suffered severe depression, according to Mara Buxbaum, his publicist. The Parkinson’s diagnosis sheds light on his condition prior to his suicide, as depression is common among people with the disease. It’s the symptom most often overlooked, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
The progressive disorder with no cure affects as many as one million Americans, and about 60 percent of people with the disease can have mild or moderate depressive symptoms, the foundation said.
It attacks the nervous system and its most common symptoms are tremors, stiffness of limbs, that can keep a person from being able to control movements. “Back to the Future” actor Michael J. Fox and former professional boxer Muhammad Ali also are known to suffer from Parkinson’s.
The National Parkinson Foundation reported in 2012 that depression is the most important factor that influences the health status of patients with the disease.
NPF’s study of more than 5,500 people with Parkinson’s showed having depression had almost double the impact on the individual’s health compared with the effect of motor impairments associated with Parkinson’s. The group recommends annual screenings for depression.
The NPF also said it can be difficult to diagnose depression in people with Parkinson’s because symptons such as fatigue and masked facial expressions may hide mood swings.
While there’s no cure, there are treatments for Parkinson’s. Doctors may prescribe levodopa, the most effective drug, according to the Mayo Clinic. NPF has also recommends discussing any mood changes with healthcare professionals, including their Parkinson’s doctor.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is encouraging pharmaceutical companies to find treatments for other symptoms of Parkinson’s, including the inability to focus attention and memory loss. The foundation is also conducting a smartwatch study with Intel Corp. to help monitor symptoms, to measure progression of the disease.
“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” Schneider said.