By Kathy Walsh
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – The wife of the late actor Robin Williams blames his suicide on a disease called Lewy body dementia. You may not know about it, but it affects an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S.
Now, neurologist Dr. Rajeev Kumar in Englewood is leading two studies on possible treatments for symptoms of the disease.
Arlene Salazar is one of his patients. Two years ago, the 70-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“Falling mostly, I just kept falling,” Salazar told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
She also explained she had muscle stiffness, tremors, and her sleep changed.
“I toss and turn and evidently, I scream. I run in my sleep. I fight,” Salazar said.
“‘Wham’ … I mean she smacked me pretty hard,” added her husband of 53 years, Mike Salazar, who is also her caregiver.
He choked back tears as he explained, “She’s lost a whole lot of her personality.”
That’s because Arlene also has Lewy body dementia, a chronic, progressive brain disorder and the second-most common cause of dementia.
“Cognitive impairment in which there’s trouble with memory, trouble with vivid dreams and nightmares,” said Kumar.
There are no Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for the disease, but Kumar is leading two clinical studies. One is on a drug called intepirdine.
“To try to improve memory and thinking capacity,” said Kumar.
The other drug being studied is nelotanserin. The hope is it can treat the nightmares, like Arlene’s.
“The hardest part of it all is that we know it’s not going to get better,” said an emotional Mike Salazar.
But researchers hope that finding ways to treat aspects of Lewy body dementia will get them closer to a cure.
Kumar is looking for more study participants from across the U.S. He says there is funding for travel.
For more information on the studies call 303-762-6674 or visit the Rocky Mountain Movement Disorders Center website.