Tag: dementia

I STILL Honor You Robin Williams – July 21, 1951 to August 11, 2014

I STILL Honor You Robin Williams – July 21, 1951 to August 11, 2014

Robin WilliamsToo little has been said about Robin Wiliams’ suicide. Too little has been done to honor his life. I sense a world uncertain and confused about how to respond to his suicide, or how they “should” feel, and so they remain silent. Still caught in the archaic notion that depression and suicide are choices we make, sympathy, compassion and understanding are lacking. We are too often a heartless society, unable to rise above our baser instincts, our judgments, our egos.

Robin William’s death could have been a launch pad for vitally important and valuable conversations about mental health, depression, suicide, medically induced suicide, the emotional and mental aspects of illnesses such as  Parkinson’s and Dementia, how we allow advertising and drug companies to determine what is best for us, how doctor’s too often do the same. His death could have been an addition to his legacy, not an embarrassing post-script.

I was stunned by the lack of honor paid to this talented man and his incredible body of work at this year’s awards ceremonies.  When it came to the segment honoring those lost during the year, his picture seemed to be thrown in at the end, like an afterthought,  as if they were debating right up to show time whether or not to include him.  The fact that he died at his own hand seemed to somehow tarnish his legacy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the reasons behind his suicide were thrashed about as hotly on the internet as Donald Trump’s current insult to our collective intelligence are now? I didn’t see it, and I’m present here every day more than I often would like to be.  A few spoke up at the time of his death, like Dean Burnett’s article in The Guardian, Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish, otherwise the topic was dropped quickly; a lack of consensus perhaps, or a lack of understanding.

Robin Williams’ death was ruled a suicide. That is the black and white of medical science. It’s not the whole story. It never is. News reporting didn’t seem to want to go the distance. US Today reported:

The official cause of Williams death, released Friday by the Marin County coroner, was ruled a suicide by hanging, with no evidence of alcohol or illegal drugs in his system and only therapeutic concentrations of prescribed medications.

 

Williams had long battled alcoholism, drug addiction and depression, but in November 2013 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, according to his widow, after noticing a tremor in his left arm and difficulty moving on his left side as early as 2011.

 

Now a redacted pathology report from the autopsy on Williams’ body has been made public and it mentions Lewy body disease, a newly recognized disorder similar to Parkinson’s.

My mother-in-law who died a little over two years ago, and who was born on August 11th, the  same day on which Robin Williams life ended, was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She was given powerful doses of medication that created a vast array of difficult side affects, including anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. Several years into treatment the doctor said, “Oh, sorry, my mistake. You don’t have Parkinson’s.”

We need to question our medical practitioners with increasing frequency and regularity about the drugs they are prescribing, too often without respect for the consequences.  We must continue to be pro-active in our health care, questioning, reading, researching and evaluating in addition to seeking the advice of a professional. We need to stop being so agreeable and willing to accept whatever the multi-billion dollar drug industry prescribes for us, because the drug companies, more often than not, are dictating what doctor’s are prescribing and/or inducing us to ask for them.  They convince us with their expensive advertising that we need their product, much like McDonald’s, and the ill effects may be just as inauspicious.

DoubtfireIn addition, we need to continue to look harder at the underlying causes of mental illness. It is not always a difficult childhood, a trauma, a confused identity alone that leads to depression and suicide. These things may only be the precipitating factor behind a biological imbalance, or vice versa; a biological imbalance that may be corrected by diet, supplements, or remedies other than the chemicals prescribed by drug companies.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have served their purpose and continue to do so for many, during a time in history when they were the best option available to us. Now, however, research is reaching further every day into the body/mind connection. Let’s start listening to their findings and following common sense at least as often as we follow big business and advertising.

Lewy Body Dementia, the disease Robin Williams actually had, causes hhallucinations, visuospatial abnormalities, and other psychiatric disturbances. As mentioned above, Parkinson’s medications can cause these types of problems as well. Should he not have been monitored more carefully?

Robin Williams’ life was a gift. I hope one day I will be able to watch Mrs. Doubtfire without a deep sadness lurking behind each laugh; or Hook without wishing this vibrant life was still dancing across the screen. I don’t think I will ever force myself to decide which of his movies I love the best. Each expressed a piece of him.  How rich a life he lived; how very much of himself he gave in the process. We should all live so boldly. In light of such a life,  does the end really matter? I honor you Robin Williams.

 

“Sundowning”

“Sundowning”

Sundowning is a pattern of behavior that occurs in the evening after the sun goes down in elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  You may notice that your charge, who may be somewhat lucid during daylight hours, loses ground in the evenings. My mother exhibited this behavior in varying degrees for about six months before she died. I did not understand what was happening at the time and once I did it was easier to handle.

The first time I experienced sundowning was one evening while I was visiting Mom at her apartment in the retirement community where she lived. She had not been doing well and recently had a fall. As we sat together, eating dinner and watching TV, she abruptly turned to me and asked, “Where is your Dad?”

My father had been dead for eight years at the time.  I studied her face trying to discern what information she was looking for. She was quite herself and lucid during the day at that time and I was caught completely off guard. I didn’t know how to respond.  Should I tell her the truth or go along with her delusion? I stumbled my way through it that night reminding her that he had died. She looked surprised and upset that no one had told her of his passing.  The question resurfaced again and again, in addition to others.

Sometimes I merely said, “He’s out” and she would go back to whatever it was she was doing. Other times she would push and prod until I told her the truth and then she would cry, every time it was if she was hearing of his death for the first time. It was painful for both of us.

Dementia is usually caused by illness or mini strokes that have damaged a person’s brain cells. Sundowning is thought to occur due to the correspondent damage of a person’s circadian rhythms, the internal clock that regulates the body’s physiological activities over a twenty four hour period.

There are several things you can do to try and minimize the effects of sundowning.

  • Keep the person active and awake during the day as much as possible. It makes it easier for them to fall asleep in the evening.
  • Plan activities during morning hours and keep the afternoon activities calm and simple.
  • When possible make sure the person receives morning sunlight and increase interior light before dusk.
  • Keep your loved ones life and surroundings simple and uncluttered. A sudden change or move can make it worse.
  • Sometimes confusion can be caused or aggravated by dehydration or hunger. Often the elderly turn away from food and drink, increasing the likelihood of deficiencies.

Most of all, knowing that sundowning exists can be tremendously comforting. I wish I had known then!