SUNNYVALE (KCBS) – It was revealed on Thursday that actor and comedian Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease before he died on Monday.
His wife, Susan Schneider revealed the new information in a statement on Thursday. “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,” Schneider said.
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Dr. Carrolee Barlow, CEO of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, explains why a diagnosis of Parkinson’s can be especially difficult for someone already suffering from depression.
“In Parkinson’s disease, there’s another area of the brain that produces serotonin. I think of everyone who has heard of depression, we all know that serotonin is something that helps depression get relief,” said Dr. Barlow. “If you get more serotonin, you get improvement in your depression. In Parkinson’s, the serotonin from a certain part of your brain is also being lost.
“So for a patient with Parkinson’s, they are having the challenges of the reduction in dopamine, which causes the tremor and the difficulty walking. But they are also having reductions in serotonin, which makes them especially predisposed to depression. So in a case where you have pre-existing challenges with depression, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s can make that more challenging,” she explained.
The 63-year-old Williams was found dead in his Tiburon home on Monday and according to a preliminary investigation from the Marin County coroner’s bureau, he apparently took his own life.
Dr. Barlow said the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center helps those diagnosed with the disease. “If you have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the most important thing you can do is make sure you get to a place where people know what the disease is. We are one such place,” said Barlow. “We are completely devoted to the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s – that is our mission.”
“Parkinson’s affects every person differently. We need to manage each person individually, there is no one size fits all for Parkinson’s patients, “Dr. Barlow said. “The sooner you’re seen by experts with experience in Parkinson’s disease, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to help you manage your symptoms.”
Dr. Barlow said researchers at the center are continuing to look into the connection between Parkinson’s and depression and also some of the other challenges Parkinson’s patients face outside of the movement problem.