Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s disease

If only Mom had been dealt a better hand

The woman in this picture was dealt a rotten hand.

She was my mother. The fellow in this picture is my father. They had this photo taken to commemorate their engagement. They were married on Aug. 24, 1946 and stayed married for 34 years. Then Dad died in a boating accident; he was 59 years of age.

However, this post is about Mom. She would live only a little more than four years after Dad. On Wednesday, she would have celebrated her 95th birthday. She lived for just 61 years.

My sisters and I occasionally wonder how Mom would have grown old. I have my theory, which I’ve shared already on this blog but I want to restate it here as my way of wishing her a happy birthday.

The hand she was dealt? Well, she died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, she was young when she passed away. One usually doesn’t waste away in the manner Mom did at the age of 61. But she did. In fact, her condition began to change years before. Looking back on the nearly 34 years since her death, I have a bit of trouble recalling precisely when we began noticing changes in her behavior. Maybe it was five, seven — or perhaps 10 years.

At the end, she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t do a single thing for herself. Alzheimer’s disease ravaged her.

I occasionally ask myself: What would have happened had Mom not been dealt the hand she received? How might she have grown old?

A clue remains imprinted on my mind. Long before she began her slide into the Alzheimer’s never-land, Mom would reveal what kind of young woman she used to be. She was proud of her social skills. She once proclaimed to me that she often was the life of any social gathering she would attend. Mom was full — if you’ll pardon the pithy expression — of piss and vinegar.

She was unable to rediscover the mysteries of her younger years. Disease made sure of that.

Had she been able to grow old free of the disease that killed her — particularly without Dad’s presence in her life — I remain quite convinced that she would have rediscovered much of what made her the life of the party.

None of that happened. I am left these days merely to wonder.

Fate can be cruel. It was to my dear mother.

She would have turned 95. I want to wish her a happy birthday. Wherever she is, I am certain she’ll hear it. I hope she is smiling.

Mental health exams for presidents? Absolutely!

Set aside for a moment the questions that have arisen about the current president of the United States, about whether he still possesses all his marbles.

The White House doctor says he does. That’s good enough for me.

CNN polled Americans and learned that 80 percent of us favor regular mental acuity examinations for presidents. Count me as strongly in favor of that idea.

The exams could help determine whether a president is showing signs of dementia, loss of mental snap, whether he is less alert. I’m all for it!

When is it too early? I don’t think you should set a minimum age for such exams. Donald J. Trump is 71 years of age. He clearly falls into the category of Americans susceptible to loss of cognitive skill.

I’ll pass along this personal tidbit.

My dear mother died in September 1984 — at age 61 — of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She had become a mere shell of the woman she once was. She didn’t recognize anyone. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t feed herself, bathe or dress herself. Eventually, she developed pneumonia after her brain ceased telling her lungs to breathe.

Mom was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the spring of 1980, when she was not quite 57 years of age. In truth, she had been showing some serious sign of personality disorder and loss of cognition at least three, maybe four years earlier. That meant she might have been showing early onset symptoms at the age of, oh, 53 or 54.

Most of us are still in the prime of life at that age. Not everyone is dealt that kind of good fortune. Mom clearly was dealt an extremely bad hand.

Thus, when the president of the United States is handed the nuclear launch codes and is put in command of the world’s most formidable military machine, I want to know whether he is up to the job.

By all means, we need to look inside their noggins regularly.

Alzheimer’s claims another celebrity

A dreaded disease that needs intense national attention has taken another noted celebrity.

Glen Campbell died today at the age of 81. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a merciless, ruthless killer that afflicts about 4 million Americans. That number is going to increase as the nation’s median age continues to rise.

My blog post today isn’t so much about Campbell as it is about the disease that killed him. I’ve written to you many times over the years about Alzheimer’s disease. I take news such as Campbell’s death very personally.

My mother died of Alzheimer’s complications on Sept. 17, 1984. She was 61 years of age at the time of her death. She was diagnosed formally only in the spring of 1980 but truth be told Mom exhibited some strange behavior shifts for years prior to the neurologist’s grim diagnosis.

The federal budget doesn’t devote nearly the amount of money I would prefer for research into finding a cure for this neurological disease. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t get the kind of attention it needs, either. Why is that? Its victims generally are older. They are susceptible to this killer. We used to pass it off as merely age-related dementia.

I will tell you this as well: Its victims aren’t just the individuals it strikes without warning; they also are the loved ones who care for them. The afflicted individuals eventually do not know they are in dire peril. They don’t know their family members. They lose their cognitive ability … all of it. In my mother’s case, she lost the ability to speak.

This disease is as ugly as they come.

The only blessing in Glen Campbell’s death is that we’re talking yet again about the disease that killed him. May this conversation translate — finally! — into meaningful commitment to finding a cure.

Time flies, right Mom and Dad?


You’ve seen this gorgeous couple already.

They are my mother and father. Mom’s name was Mnostoula; Dad’s was Pete.

The picture was taken as they became engaged to be married. Dad had just returned from seeing horrifying combat as a U.S. Navy sailor. The bulk of his combat occurred in the Mediterranean theater. Mom was employed at a bank in Portland, Ore.

Today would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. Mom would be 93, Dad would be 95.

They never got to grow old together.

Mom was dealt a terrible hand. She was gone not long after her 61st birthday. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. We had it diagnosed in the spring of 1980, but in reality she was exhibiting symptoms long before the doctor delivered the grim news.

At the end, Mom couldn’t recognize anyone. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t feed or bathe herself.

Dad had died about four years earlier. He decided to take some customers of his on a fishing trip to an inlet just north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Four of them — Dad and two of his customers and the driver of a small boat — were racing back to the lodge as the sun was setting. It was getting dark in the inlet.

They hit a log jam at high speed, flipping the boat. Two of the men survived; Dad and the boat driver did not.

He was just 59 years of age.

I think of them every day. I miss them every day.

I also wonder how they might have grown old. It’s only a theory, of course, as you can’t bring them back.

But my theory is that Mom likely would have grown old with grace and good humor. She used to recall with fondness her days as a young woman coming of age. She fancied herself as a jokester and the life of any gathering of her peers.

Dad was family oriented. His aging might have been more challenging. He loved being in the presence of my sisters and me — and our families. Dad was close to all of his six siblings and they would recall to me how — as the oldest of the brood — Dad became the family leader as all of them moved from New England to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1930s.

Well, you can’t go back.

They’ve been gone for well more than three decades. Their marriage lasted 34 years and ended the day Dad died in that senseless accident.

They would have turned 70 together today.

If only …

Memo to Hillary: Stay true to your Alzheimer’s pledge


Pat Summitt’s death this morning of complications from Alzheimer’s disease brought to mind a pledge that one of the candidates for president of the United States made earlier this year.

Democratic nominee-to-be Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged to devote $2 billion immediately to search for a cure for the killer disease.

I said then that I — and more than likely many other Americans — would keep the pressure on her after she takes the presidential oath of office next January.

I was impressed that she would make such a pledge, that she would target such a disease — one that affects loved ones arguably at least as much as it affects those who are afflicted by it.

Understand this: My interest in finding a cure for this disease is intensely personal. My family and I have lived through the horror of it, watching my mother waste away as the disease stole her cognitive ability over time. Another beloved member of my family is battling the disease right now and I am dreading what it will do to him eventually.

Pat Summitt demonstrated astonishing bravery when she announced she was suffering early-onset of Alzheimer’s-related dementia and then continued to coach her women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee for one final season.

She deserves to be honored and mourned by Americans everywhere.

I’m going to look ahead, though, with the hope that if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States that she keeps her pledge to go after Alzheimer’s disease.

Many millions of us out here understand the pain this disease brings. The number of Americans affected by it only are going to grow as the nation ages.

Be advised, Mme. Secretary. We’ll be watching you carefully.

This coach was an educator and a role model


I knew about Patricia Sue Summitt’s winning ways on the basketball court.

She coached the women’s basketball teams at the University of Tennessee to eight national championships. She was fierce a competitor as they come. She would end up winning more collegiate basketball games than any coach in the U.S. history.

What I didn’t know — or may have forgotten — about Pat Summitt was that she demanded academic achievement among the young women who played basketball for her.

When I learned about Coach Summitt’s death this morning of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, I also read something else about her.

It was that every young woman who played through their entire athletic eligibility at Tennessee would graduate from the university.

Summitt has a 100-percent graduation rate during her storied and iconic athletic career in Knoxville.

They’re mourning her death at the university. They’ll remember her NCAA championships. They’ll salute her bravery after announcing she had early onset of the disease that would kill her, how she would coach a final year before walking away knowing more than likely that her time on Earth was short.

Those all are wonderful things to salute. I will honor her memory as well for those accomplishments. I will honor her as well because she died of a disease with which I have intimate knowledge, as my own mother lost her own fight against it many years ago.

Her enduring legacy, though, ought to be that she strove to have her young athletes complete their university education successfully. They were students first, and athletes second. Coach Summitt insisted they adhere to the term “student-athlete.”

Can there be a greater example of leadership than that?

Ferrell backs out of Reagan ‘satire’


I’ll take all the credit I deserve for this bit of entertainment/political news.

Will Ferrell has dropped out of a proposed movie about the debilitating disease that took the life of President Ronald Reagan.

The film is intended to satirize the Alzheimer’s disease that stripped President Reagan of his memory, his cognitive skill, his very essence. He died in 2004 of complications from the disease after bidding farewell to the nation a decade earlier in a heartbreaking letter disclosing he had been caught in the disease’s early onset.


Yes, I was one of those who said the idea of such a satire went beyond the bounds of taste and class. And it disappointed me greatly that Ferrell — one of my favorite comic actors — was considering playing the stricken president in this so-called “satire.”

There is not a single thing funny about the disease that afflicts more than 5 million Americans — and inflicts an unbearable burden of pain and heartache on the loved ones who care for them.

So, Ferrell has dropped out. The backlash against the film was intense.

“There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s. It is terrifying for the families of those who suffer from it. They live with the fear [of] what will change next, they have to live with this terror and grief every day,” Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis told Page Six. “This movie is cruel, not just to my father, but to the millions of people who have the disease, and the millions more who care for them and watch them suffer every day.”


Now, let’s hope that the producers of “Reagan” will think better about poking fun at a relentless, ruthless killer … and its victims.


There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s disease


Will Ferrell is one of my favorite comics.

His impression of President George W. Bush is priceless. His Ricky Bobby race-car driver character cracks me up.

But for the ever-lovin’ life of me, I do not understand the role he is about to undertake.

Ferrell is set to play President Ronald Reagan in a bleeping satire about Alzheimer’s disease.


Maybe I’m a fuddy-duddy. Perhaps I need to dust off my funny bone.

The film reportedly will be set during President Reagan’s second term. Dementia sets in. His staff supposedly tells him he’s an actor portraying the president.

Gosh, that’s a real knee-slapper, right?

Actually, it isn’t.

Those of us who have intimate knowledge and experience with this dreaded disease might not see the humor in it. OK, maybe some of us will.

I don’t.

The disease is a merciless predator. It strips away people’s cognition, their memory. Everything!

My mother died of the disease 32 years ago at the age of 61. I watched her essence disappear over time.

And another beloved member of my family is in its early stages. He’s doing well at this moment. Time, though, is not on his side.

It’s a miserable, heartbreaking, tragic disease.

Someone now wants to poke fun at this killer that victimizes millions of Americans. Its victims include those who suffer from the disease and their loved ones who must watch them deteriorate.

How is that funny?


Clinton takes back … a compliment


Here’s how it usually goes when a politician retracts a statement.

The pol usually says something negative about someone else, only to be shown that the comment was unfounded. The politician then might take at least some of it back, declaring a lack of complete understanding.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, though, did something quite different this week.

She attended the funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan and then offered high praise for the work Mrs. Reagan and her husband, President Ronald Reagan, did to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Well, to borrow an exclamation: Oops!

Turns out the Reagans didn’t do what Clinton said they did. They were not champions for HIV/AIDS research.

AIDS activists and leaders of the LGBT community were quick to call Clinton out on her misstatement.

President Reagan didn’t even mention AIDS — which was initially diagnosed in 1981, the first year of his presidency — until 1987. As for Mrs. Reagan, she was silent on the issue as well.

Yes, the backlash was intense in the wake of Clinton’s comments.

As the New York Times reported: “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS,” she said in a statement about two hours after her interview had been shown on MSNBC. “For that, I’m sorry.”

I am pretty sure that Clinton’s staff did not serve her well in prepping her for the TV interview in which she “misspoke.”

Indeed, if the leading Democratic presidential candidate would be of a mind to praise any Republican for their work on HIV/AIDS research, it ought to go President George W. Bush, on whose watch the PEPFAR program was initiated.

While touring Southeast Asia with other journalists in 2004 on a mission to learn about the impact of AIDS in that part of the world, we were told that because of PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — the United States was spending more on AIDS research than the rest of the world combined.

The Reagans weren’t in the game. Yes, the late former first lady has earned high praise for her Alzheimer’s awareness efforts. Not so with HIV/AIDS.

Now we’ll get to see how nimble Hillary Clinton can be in the face of some stinging rebukes over what one leading gay activist called her “idiotic, false – and heartbreaking” tribute.

Nancy Reagan’s lasting legacy: Alzheimer’s awareness


Nancy Reagan will be remembered for many noble and good things.

The former first lady — who died this past weekend at age 94 — was a champion for her husband, the 40th president of the United States. She became arguably his closest advisor and by many accounts was his best friend. She sought to protect his image and his legacy and most historians today she succeeded famously at protecting both of those things.

She also was an advocate for Alzheimer’s research and that’s what I want to focus on here.

You see, many of us have intimate knowledge of that disease.

On Nov. 5, 1994, President Reagan penned that astonishingly poignant farewell letter to the nation as he disclosed his diagnosis. He and his bride then said their “long goodbye” to each other. Nearly a decade later, President Reagan would succumb to the complications of that disease.

Read the president’s letter here.

I’ve told you at times of my own experience with the disease, having watched my mother wither away and die 32 years ago from its effects at the too-tender age of 61. Take my word for it: It ain’t pretty.

Other family members of well-known Americans have taken up the cause for Alzheimer’s research. I think most often of Maria Shriver, whose father — Sargent Shriver — was rendered helpless by the affliction before he died. Shriver has vowed to carry the fight forward.

Nancy Reagan sought to raise research funds. She lobbied Congress to do more for the families who are the actual sufferers of this malady. They are the victims, who watch their loved ones lose their cognitive skill, their memory, their ability to do simple things, such as bathe and eat.

All those things happened to her beloved husband and she fought as hard as she could until the day he died and later — until her own health deteriorated.

The world she leaves behind needs more powerful advocates who will take up the cudgel for other family members who must endure the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thank you, Mrs. Reagan, for the waging this noble effort.

We haven’t finished the fight just yet, but we’re a lot closer to declaring victory.