Robin Willaims' wife says he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease before his death

Doctors say the disorder can cause depression

Baltimore - Robin Williams’ wife says the 63-year-old was sober, but struggling with depression and the early stages of Parkinson's disease at the time of his death. 

The comedian hanged himself this week.  Williams' widow, Susan Schneider, released a statement, saying the actor wasn't yet ready to go public with his Parkinson's diagnosis at the time of his death.  She hopes this additional information about Williams will encourage others "to seek care and support to treat whatever battles they are facing so they feel less afraid."

READ | Robin Williams' wife: He had Parkinson's disease

There is no cure for Parkinson's disease.  The nervous system disorder affects about a million people here in the U.S. and about 5 million worldwide.  It's a diagnosis that's hard to cope with. 

Over time symptoms will get worse. Johns Hopkins has a Parkinson's disease research center that leads the world in probing the degenerative disorder.  Neurologist Dr. Alexander Pantelyat explains the disorder involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement.

"It is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s Disease,” he said.

Patients can experience tremors, slowness of movement, loss of balance, and muscle stiffness.  Drugs and surgery can help reduce the symptoms.

"However, no current treatments are able to slow down the underlying progression of the brain cell loss that causes the disease," said Pantelyat

Health experts say about three in every 1,000 people has Parkinson's disease.  While the exact cause remains a mystery, genes and environmental factors are thought to play a role.  The shocking diagnosis is often met with despair.         

"Depression is seen in upwards of 50% of Parkinson's disease patients for several reasons, and one of the more common reasons is response to initial diagnosis," Pantelyat said.

But Parkinson's is not a death sentence.  Countless people are able to manage the disease and live a long life.  At The Johns Hopkins Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence , doctors are researching what causes the disorder, experimenting with treatments, and hunting for a cure.  But there is still a lot of work to be done.

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