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Robin Williams Documentary Shines a Light on Medical Misdiagnosis

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Wednesday, July 21 would have been Robin Williams’ 70th birthday. He won dozens of awards for his phenomenal acting performances, from the People’s Choice Award for Best Comedic Movie Actor in 1994, 2007, and 2008 to his posthumous award for Freedom of Expression — Honorary Award in 2015 by CinEuphoria “for a career of heartfelt performances both in Drama as in Comedy.”

Williams’ son Zak spoke with The Genius Life podcast host Max Lugavere this week and explained how Williams’ diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease impacted his father’s death by suicide in August 2014.

“What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with what] many Parkinson’s patients experience. So, I think that was hard for him,” Williams said.

Zak explained that it wasn’t until years after his father’s death that the autopsy revealed that instead of Parkinson’s disease, Robin was fighting Lewy body dementia — the third most common form of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Lewy body dementia causes symptoms such as “delusions, well-formed visual hallucinations, gait imbalance and other parkinsonian movement features, confusion, changes in thinking” and more.

To learn more about Williams’ experience with Lewy body dementia, please watch Tylor Norwood’s documentary entitled “Robin’s Wish” which beautifully tells audiences about the last days of Robin’s life.

Dementia-related diseases significantly impact thousands of lives each year, so it is no surprise that Williams’ life was not only impacted but also made balancing his disease and career incredibly difficult, compounding his mental health.

“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 Williams said.

Zak said that watching his dad experience his disease was very difficult and said that he “[felt] beyond empathy” and was “frustrated for him.”

After his father’s death, Zak said that he began experiencing symptoms of psychosis and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychiatrist while attempting to self-medicate with alcohol. Williams has since founded Prepare Your Mind or PYM, a wellness company that creates “feel-good” chewables to alleviate anxiety symptoms, stress and build back neurotransmitter health within the brain and body.

In a study completed in 2019 by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, inaccurate diagnosis by medical professionals is the first cause of serious medical errors which can lead to patients not only receiving appropriate care but experiencing physical and mental consequences. Approximately 12 million Americans cope with diagnostical errors each year by primary care physicians.

Thirty-three percent of those individuals sustain permanent serious injury or death. Between 40 and 80,000 deaths occur in United States hospitals every year because of misdiagnosis as well. Most of these errors happened during the diagnostic process of what’s known as “The Big Three:” cancer, vascular events and infection. Over 70% of these errors are made in ambulatory settings, meaning in urgent care clinics, emergency departments and outpatient care clinics.

Misdiagnosis is also rampant with regard to mental illnesses as well, often because of comorbidity and parallel symptoms between certain illnesses. In a study conducted by Hillside Hospital of Atlanta, Georgia in 2019, individuals who have ADHD, depression and bipolar disorder are often misdiagnosed, causing years of mismanaged symptoms, inadequate medication and instilling in patients a lack of trust in self and practitioner.

You can rent or purchase “Robin’s Wish” on Amazon.



Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published: July 24, 2021
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