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Robin Williams' Parkinson's diagnosis sparks discussion

By Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Aug 15 2014 06:51:46 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 15 2014 11:16:43 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

On Thursday, Robin Williams' widow revealed that the late comedian had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease shortly before he took his life earlier this week.

In a statement, Susan Schneider said that, "Robin's sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety, as well as early stages of Parkinson's disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly."

With that revelation, new discussions have emerged about the impacts of Parkinson's disease.

NBC Montana contacted the president of a Montana Parkinson's outreach group to get his thoughts on the situation and the greater discussion.

Dr. Dennis O'Donnell heads Montana's Summit for Parkinson's, and deals with the condition himself on a daily basis.

"I think Robin Williams was essentially a national treasure and I was extremely upset; it upsets me now," said O'Donnell, of Williams' passing.

"It generates a conversation about two things. One is suicide, one is Parkinson's," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell says he felt for Williams when he heard of the Parkinson's diagnosis.

"Parkinson's is a degenerative disease, which ultimately can affect your speech, cognitive capacities, etcetera, and it may have been, in his case, that it all added up to very much -- too much," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell was diagnosed in 2000, and the disease first appeared as a tremor in one of his hands that eventually progressed.

"It can start so subtly, but has devastating impacts in the long run," said O'Donnell.

Parkinson's is a motor system disorder that experts say runs a course of five stages, ranging from mild tremors at stage one, to stage five in which a patient may not be able to stand at all. Some medication for the disease can create uncontrollable movements in patients.

Experts estimate one in 100 people live with the disease, which means roughly 10,000 could be dealing with the disease in Montana.

O'Donnell says non-patients can help out by staying aware of the disease, and not acting nervous around patients exhibiting symptoms like uncontrolled movements.

"For almost every one of us, there's going to be some time in our lives where we need some assistance and some help," said O'Donnell.

Summit for Parkinson's is planning to hold a workshop about the disease on November 7 and 8. Anyone looking for more information can check the group's website for updates at summitforparkinsons.org.