Robin Williams’ son Zak talks about effect of his father’s misdiagnosis: “What I’ve seen is frustration”

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Robin Williams’ son Zak talks about effect of his father’s misdiagnosis: “What I’ve seen is frustration”


Robin Williams’ son opens up about his father’s psychological struggles as well as his own following the legendary comedian’s death in a new podcast interview.

Zak Williams, 38, sat down with writer and host Max Lugavere for a long, heart-to-heart conversation during the latest installment of his podcast, “The Genius Life,” which airs new episodes every Wednesday.

Their candid conversation included their mutual struggles with depression, anxiety, and the pain of seeing a loved one consumed by a debilitating neurodegenerative disease: Lewy Body Dementia. Lugavere and Williams both saw a parent suffer from the “frustrating” illness – the pain of which left a lasting impact on both men.

It was a poignant conversation to begin on the day that would have been Robin’s 70th birthday, July 21.

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Robin Williams’ son Zak Williams described his “frustrating” experience seeing his father battling dementia before his suicide in 2014.
(Photo par Albert Chau/FilmMagic)

“What I saw was frustration,” Williams said of his father’s diagnosis and misdiagnosis.

About two years before his suicide death in 2014, doctors told Williams he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, causing his signature tremors.

But an autopsy would later reveal that Robin and his medical team had treated the wrong disease. “What he was going through did not correspond one by one [with] the experience of many patients with Parkinson’s disease, ”said the eldest son of Robin and his first wife, Valerie Velardi.

Williams believes her father’s misdiagnosis likely exacerbated the emotional burden dementia places on patients. During the years Robin lived without knowing the full extent of his illness, his son observed his difficulty concentrating and the “challenges that come with doing his job,” contributing to anxiety and depression. the depression of the actors before his death.

“Lightning fast recall – that was his signature [on stage] He said, referring to the impact of dementia on patients.

The two Lewy body dementias [DLB] and Parkinson’s disease [PDD] are subtypes of dementia, characterized by a build-up of proteins that clump together in neurons in the brain, inhibiting both the central and autonomic nervous systems.

However, DLB is distinguished from the other subtype by symptoms including a noticeable decline in cognitive abilities and difficulty with daily mental activities such as planning, problem solving, concentration and alertness, according to Lewy. Body Dementia Association. Hallucinations, sleepwalking, mood swings, and physical rigidity are also hallmarks of CDL.

Robin Williams teaches a class in a scene from the movie “Dead Poets Society”, 1989.
(Photo par Touchstone Pictures/Getty Images)

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In addition, the development of PDD is not initially guaranteed in all patients with Parkinson’s disease, which adds to Robin’s confusion in the years leading up to his death.

“It was a time of intense research and frustration for him,” said Williams. “It’s just devastating. “

This devastation took its toll in the wake of her father’s death – in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and depression: “I medicated myself during the trauma using alcohol. “

His declining health, which included episodes of psychosis, ultimately prompted Williams to seek help – helping others. “I was just fed up with trying to cure myself using harmful means,” said Williams, who turned her negative experience into a positive one through advocacy.

“What do I need not only to take care of myself, but to show myself for others?” He posed for host Max Lugavere, who noted that men, in particular, are four times more likely to kill themselves than women. , according to studies.

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“I think a lot [men] feel isolated, many don’t have the opportunities, ”said the father of two, who has found strength in a 12-step program and other forms of group therapy. He especially sympathizes with those who don’t have access to mental health resources, due to telehealth striving to expand access, he stressed, but encourages in-person connection in tandem.

Especially among men, for whom the stigma of seeking mental health treatment is much higher, men’s groups – in churches, bars, or wherever they find a common interest – can be a powerful source. inspiration and support. Gender-exclusive men’s groups “also allow them to focus on issues without interpersonal gender dynamics,” Williams added.

The activist and entrepreneur, who founded PYM, a mental wellness company specializing in “neuro-nutrition”. It was his battle with alcoholism that prompted him to explore the subject, leading him to learn more about the impact of a nutrient deficiency on the brain and psychological health, such as the neurotransmitter gamma- acid. aminobutyric acid (GABA), the supplements of which made all the difference in her recovery. “It was like day and night,” Williams said.

Low levels of GABA in the brain have been linked to increased levels of anxiety and mood disorders. The amino acid has been dubbed “nature’s Valium” by some, according to Lugavere.

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PYM’s products and other forms of supplementation are “not cures,” Williams insisted, and should be used in tandem with healthy eating, exercise and therapy, for some. “They don’t solve the anxiety, but they try to solve the root problems. “

His goal as an advocate is to encourage people to think more about mental health in terms of physiological health: “People need to understand what they need for their bodies.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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