Robin Williams Suffered From Parkinson's Disease: What Are The Symptoms And Causes?

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The first time many of us heard of Parkinson's disease was when Michael J Fox announced he had the condition, back in 1999.

More recent sufferers include Billy Connolly and, as revealed on Thursday, the late comedian Robin Williams, who took his own life on Monday.

Like diabetes, there is no cure for Parkinson's, and scientists do not know what exactly causes the disease.

Around 127,000 people in the UK have Parkinson's disease, and it is caused by a loss of brain cells that produce a chemical messenger called dopamine.

robin williams

Symptoms tend to get worse the longer a person has the disease because it is a progressive neurological disorder. It differs from case to case but often include a tremor or fine shake while the person is at rest, rigidity of muscles, slowness of movement and unsteady balance.


• Tremor (shaking)
• Slowness of movement
• Rigidity (stiffness)
• Physical and other symptoms of Parkinson's
• Bladder and bowel problems
• Eye problems
• Falls and dizziness
• Freezing
• Pain
• Restless legs syndrome
• Skin, scalp and sweating problems
• Sleep problems
• Speech and communication problems
• Swallowing problems
• Anxiety
• Dementia
• Depression
• Hallucinations and delusions
• Memory problems

Source: Parkinson's UK

Other possible symptoms can include memory loss and earlier this year, Connolly admitted he had started to forget his lines during performances.

The NHS website advises: "The average age for the symptoms to start is around 60; although around 1 in 20 cases first develop in people aged under 50. Men are one-and-half times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women."


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Parkinson's UK say that it can make everyday tasks like getting dressed or using a computer and phone difficult and "frustrating". They add: "On top of symptoms affecting movement, people with Parkinson’s often experience problems such as tiredness, pain, depression and constipation, which impact their day-to-day lives."

Symptoms can be controlled using a combination of drugs, therapies and occasionally surgery, but often more care and support may be needed as they progress.

Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson's UK, said diagnosis can be a "positive" experience for people.

He said: "Often people when they are diagnosed with Parkinson's will say 'Now I realise I've probably had it for several years'. They might have been living with a tremor in their fingers or a stiffness which is why diagnosis can be a positive and they can start treatment for a tremor or slowness of movement.

"It is important to say that the treatment can deal with some of the symptoms but not the underlying causes and Parkinson's is a progressive illness so as you go on more of the cells in the brain die and it gets worse although the rate at which it gets worse differs in individuals."

elderly hands

Mr Ford said patients can also be helped with physiotherapy sessions and speech and language therapy to help them deal with the symptoms.

The NHS also advises that: "Due to the advancements in treatment, people with Parkinson’s disease now often have a normal or near-normal life expectancy."

Actor Bob Hoskins announced his retirement last year after being diagnosed with the disease.

The disease was identified by - and named after - Dr James Parkinson who wrote An Essay On The Shaking Palsy in 1817 which established it as a recognised medical condition.

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