August 14, 2014 4:01 pm

Fact file: What is Parkinson’s disease?

Just days after Robin Williams died, his wife revealed that the actor and comedian had early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

TORONTO – Just days after Robin Williams died, his wife revealed that the actor and comedian had early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Williams died on Aug. 11 of a suspected suicide inside his California home. He was 63.

When his rep, Mara Buxbaum, confirmed his death, she alluded to Williams “battling severe depression.”

Now, his wife Susan Schneider says he was also dealing with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.

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READ MORE: Robin Williams had Parkinson’s, wife Susan Schneider reveals

“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 ready to share publicly,” she said in a statement.

“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” she said.

Movement is normally controlled by dopamine – a chemical that carries signals in the brain – but when the cells that create dopamine die, symptoms of Parkinson’s appear, according to Parkinson Society Canada.

It’s tricky to diagnose. Common symptoms include a tremor, slowness and stiffness or impaired balance. You could be tired, have problems with handwriting, or have trouble sleeping.

“A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can take time. A family doctor might notice it first…There are no x-rays or tests to confirm Parkinson’s,” the organization’s website explains.

READ MORE: Robin Williams and mental health – Misconceptions about depression

It also progresses at different rates depending on the person. Sometimes, it’s a small tremor, and in other cases patients need physical therapy to cope with mobility or flexibility problems.

“As the disease progresses, non-motor symptoms may also appear, such as depression, difficulty swallowing, sexual problems or cognitive changes,” the website warns.

Schneider didn’t say when Williams was diagnosed or what symptoms he may have encountered.

The disease can’t be cured, but medications made a significant improvement, according to the Mayo Clinic. In some cases, surgery helps to regulate certain regions of the brain that are affected.

Canadian actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the disease in 1992 and went public in 1998. His eponymous foundation has raised millions for Parkinson’s research.

- With files from Global News’ John R. Kennedy

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2014

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