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Tuesday
May102011

Gunter Sachs’ Suicide Highlights Depression in Alzheimer's Disease

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The death of Gunter Sachs, iconic playboy of the go-go 1960s, has brought to light how depression often accompanies Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntington's. The German billionaire and ex-husband of Brigitte Bardot fatally shot himself Saturday at his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, at age 78, leaving a suicide note that revealed his struggle with an illness he dubbed "A," thought to stand for Alzheimer's.

"The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition, which I decided to counter decisively," read the signed note, released by Sachs' family to Swiss media Sunday.

Roughly one-third of people with Alzheimer's disease also suffer from a form of depression, according to Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at University of California at Los Angeles.

"The realization that you have a disease that has no cure, no treatment, that robs you of your mind, that can be pretty depressing," Small said. "Many people, when they grasp that, they don't want to live anymore. They don't want to face the future."

But the mood disturbance could also result from the same attack on brain cells that causes the memory loss and behavior changes associated with Alzheimer's, Small said. In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Small and his colleagues found an association between the amount of plaque and tangles -- hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease -- in the brain and symptoms of anxiety or depression.

It is unclear whether Sachs had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or depression. Sachs' father, Willy Sachs, shot and killed himself in 1958.

Despite training as a mathematician and economist, Sachs made history as the 1958 European bobsled champion, a photographer, documentary filmmaker and author of the 1997's The Astrology File: Scientific Proof of the Link Between Star Signs and Human Behavior.

Sachs is survived by his third wife, former model Mirja Larsson, and their two sons, as well as a son by his first wife, Anne-Marie Faure, who died the same year as Sachs' father.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio