Newly released autopsy data show that actor Robin Williams, who committed suicide on August 11, 2014, was suffering from Lewy body dementia (LBD) — a progressive disorder that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning, and independent function. The disease, which affects an estimated 1.4 million Americans, is caused by protein deposits called Lewy bodies in brain cells that govern thinking, memory, and motor control.
Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia can include visual hallucinations, movement disorders, cognitive problems, sleep difficulties, and depression. But because LBD is difficult to recognize and differentiate from other disorders, it remains widely underdiagnosed.
Robin Williams’ wife has indicated that the actor did not know he had LBD prior to his death.
My experience has shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has helped control the symptoms of LBD, and would probably have benefited Williams.
Williams could have undergone a SPECT brain scan, which we have used to document damage in military veterans who suffered traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of those veterans had been told that their symptoms were psychological based on CT and MRI scans.
SPECT brain scans actually look at brain function. In the vets we have evaluated, that function has usually been abnormal, demonstrating that it is organic injury to the brain, not psychological problems, producing their symptoms.
We have also used SPECT brain scan to document response to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A number of the vets we treated with HBOT had attempted suicide prior to receiving the treatment. To my knowledge, after undergoing HBOT there have been no attempted suicides by in these patients.
I have noted before that blast exposure is very similar to “the bends” that scuba divers can suffer when they surface too quickly. This happens because of marked overpressure that causes bubbles in the vascular system, which can then travel to the brain and produce injury.
Experimental animal data have demonstrated that even exposure to machine gun fire and anti-tank fire can produce brain damage due to the bubbles of air produced in the vascular system.
Other conditions that can significantly benefit from HBOT include Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In my opinion, hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be tried for all of these conditions.
November is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) recognition month. In my experience, HBOT has also worked quite well to treat this condition, which results from inflammation in the lungs that makes it hard to breathe. For instance, look at the story of Missy Teller, the wife of Dr. Edward Teller.
Missy was beginning to deteriorate and doctors at Stanford Medical Center gave her only a few months to live. But by treating her with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we gave her five excellent years. She eventually died of a cerebral vascular accident, not COPD.
Missy’s husband, Dr. Teller, also benefitted from HBOT after a significant stroke. He had lost much his memory and was unable to travel by himself. By putting him on a protocol of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, he was able to regain his memory and once again travel by himself.
(To find out more information about hyperbaric oxygen therapy and stroke, visit Bcenter.com, which does a good job of presenting the value of HBOT in treating stroke.)
Had Robin Williams been correctly diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, I believe that a course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy could have repaired the damage to his brain cells, and allowed him — like Missy and Edward Teller — to return to a healthy, normal life.
It is time for the medical community to make greater use of this valuable therapy in treating LBD.
Posts by William Maxfield, M.D.
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