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President Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's Announcement and Goodbye

 "Nov. 5, 1994

 

My Fellow Americans,


I have been recently told that I am one of the millions of American who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease.

 

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our disclosure we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal healthy lives.

President Ronald ReaganSo now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life's journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's Disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you my friends. May God always bless you.

 Sincerely,

 Ronald Reagan"

 

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Stan's Personal Notes

 Ronald Reagan was my favorite of all our presidents. I believe he was June's favorite also. I remember that June saved articles and clippings about him. She also saved the articles from his funeral (June 2004)  even though she herself was then (8th year) deep in the shadows of Alzheimer's. Reagan's diagnosis late in 1994 was almost a full five years after he left office as President in January 1989. His diagnosis was deemed early stage by Mayo Clinic at time of diagnosis. I know June admired Reagan's character as a man of God and integrity and much like June, he always sported a big smile.

"My father started growing very quiet as Alzheimer’s started claiming more of him. The early stages of Alzheimer’s are the hardest because that person is aware that they’re losing awareness. And I think that that’s why my father started growing more and more quiet". - Patti Davis

June, like Ronald Reagan had a strong faith in God. Reagan's daughter Patti said about her father:

"He did have something special with God; he talked to God all the time...He just had conversations with God." She also commented that she had never heard her father ever put down or bad mouth anyone including his political opponents.

Reagan’s early years…According to Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan, Reagan had a particularly strong faith in the goodness of people, which stemmed from the optimistic faith of his mother, Nelle, and the Disciples of Christ faith,[ which he was baptized into in 1922…it was earlier in late 1920, that the Reagan’s moved to Dixon…this mid-western "small universe" (as he later referred to it) had a lasting impression on Reagan. He attended Dixon High School where he developed interests in acting, sports, and storytelling. His first job (1927) was as a lifeguard at the Rock River in Lowell Park, near Dixon…Over a six-year period, Reagan reportedly performed 77 rescues as a lifeguard… For the time, Reagan was unusual in his opposition to racial discrimination, and recalled a time in Dixon, Illinois when the local inn would not allow black people to stay there. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to stay the night and have breakfast the next morning….

Ronald Reagan enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1937. He was ordered to active duty in World War II. He was classified for limited duty due to his condition of near sightedness. He was transferred to the air force. During WWII he served from April 18th, 1942 until December 1945 after the war ended.* He held the rank of Captain on discharge.

During his acting career he was President of the Screen Actors Guild. A former Democrat he became a Republican in 1962. He later became Governor of California from 1967-1975.

Reagan was a popular President (1981-1988) winning his second term in a landslide.

Thatcher viewing Reagan's casket

Reagan was a close friend and ally with Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England. He said of her that she was "The best man in England." She in turn said of him that he was "The second most important man in my life." It was revealed in 2008 that Margaret Thatcher is also suffering from Alzheimer's with memory symptoms dating back to the year 2000.

Margaret Thatcher's Alzheimer's

President Reagan died on June 5th, 2004. Baroness Thatcher arranged to have a touching and lengthy eulogy broadcast by video from London where the Baroness Thatcher read it to the world. It is now available on "U Tube". The funeral was held at the Washington "Cathedral" on June 11th, 2004.

While Baroness Thatcher was not able to attend the Washington funeral as she herself was in early stages of her own battle with the same disease. she did however manage to briefly visit Reagan's casket while it was resting in State at the capital rotunda on Wednesday June 9th 2004. See photo on the right ...

In her eulogy, the Baroness Thatcher also mentioned the common religious faith with President Reagan as she ended his funeral eulogy by speaking of his Alzheimer's illness and ending on a note of faith:   "For the final years of his life, Ronnie’s mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again, more himself than at any time on this Earth, for we may be sure that the Big Fellow upstairs never forgets those who remember him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven’s morning broke, I like to think, in the words of Bunyan, that "all the trumpets sounded on the other side."

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 President Reagan's Passing and His Funeral

President Reagan passed away on 5 June 2004 after an almost 10 year struggle with Alzheimer's. He died at the age of 93. (1911-2004) The average life expectancy after diagnosis with Alzheimer's is 8 years.  For the last three years of his life, President Reagan was bed ridden.

Patti Davis describes her father’s last and final moments:

At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that hadn‘t opened for days, did. And they weren‘t chalky or vague. They were clear, and blue, and full of love. If a death can be lovely, his was…”The greatest gift he could have given her.” …“In his last moment, he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls...it was the last thing he could do in this world to show my mother how entwined their souls are...and it was everything.”

Patti Davis and her brother Ron were standing next to their father's bed when the astonishing interchange between their parents took place.

The former President died just before Michael Reagan entered his father's room, but he said the look on Nancy Reagan's face revealed she had been given a gift even as she began to mourn her loss.

 "His last earthy look was at his wife, his next look was at the face of God..." Michael Reagan...

The Reagan's personal physician, Dr. John Hutton, could not rule out the possibility that Ronald Reagan recognized his wife of 52 years just before he died.

"Whereas one could not explain it on any medical or physiological terms, I think there must be something to this," Hutton said last night on MSNBC's..."

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Were President Reagan's last years in office influenced by Alzheimer’s disease?

One hears such accusations from time to time by some of the politically biased members of our society.

Recently the following slightly garbled note appeared on Facebook relating to President Reagan’s last years of his presidency.

Actually they were figuring out something was wrong which is why the teleprompters were put him (Reagan) for speeches, etc. they went to great lengths to keep this hidden as much as possible.”  (8 February 2013)

After I responded to the note declaring this to be nonsense, I quoted the below defense of Obama’s use of the teleprompter by another writer in which he also talked of Reagan’s use of teleprompters…I then went on to lay out the case and the evidence that such an  idea was pure biased speculation without basis in fact. My quoted comment read:

“There’s one reason above all others that President Obama uses a teleprompter in delivering most of his speeches: he’s good at it.

Ronald Reagan was the same way. He was more at ease in reading his speech off the dual screens of a teleprompter than looking up and down at a speech text on his lectern.”

In the book “Ronald Reagan a Presidential Portfolio”, (Lou Cannon - 2001) I observed the actual handwritten draft of Reagan’s letter in which he announced to the public his Alzheimer’s diagnosis…this letter was later reproduced in printed form for public distribution…this was clearly not a letter written by anyone with advanced Alzheimer’s…there is not a clue that there was anything wrong with the writer…in fact it shows only one correction made by Reagan in the entire draft of the letter!…(See printed letter above) This same book later makes this in point reference: “In 1993 Reagan’s friends began to notice that he had become forgetful and was inclined to repeat himself…In August 1994, the fears of the Reagan’s were confirmed at their annual visit to the Mayo Clinic…(HIs last day in office was January 1989.)

Peggy Noonan who was a special Assistant to President Reagan and who is the author of the book “When Character was King”, (2001), says this about Reagan’s Alzheimer’s…”Everyone always asks if Reagan showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease when he was president”…”I never saw any.”…Noonan then checked with some of Reagan’s other friends and colleagues from those days…Dave Fischer:…”No, he said no signs of Alzheimer’s. I never saw a change in Ronald Reagan, I just didn’t…I never saw any signs whatsoever, and I’d tell you if I did.”Mike Deaver agreed with Fischer as did Ed Meese and Reagan’s last chief of staff Ken Duberstein…Noonan then sums it up by stating: ”and I know them well enough that if they had something to say off the record…they would have said it.”…”Nancy Reagan knew there was trouble for the first time in the…nineties…when his illness was diagnosed, it was found to be in an early stage.

In Dinesh D’Souza’s book “Ronald Reagan” 1997) D’Souza also finds no basis for the suggestion that Reagan was a president with Alzheimer’s and clearly says so…”There is no factual basis for the Alzheimer’s accusations. Reagan was frequently examined by doctors during his presidency, and there were no traces of mental decline apart from the natural aging process. Aides visited him in California during the early 1990’s testify that he was in full possession of his faculties. When his illness was diagnosed, it was found to be in an early stage.”

It should be noted that Reagan lived for 10 years from the time of diagnosis in 1994…Average life span from time of diagnosis is 8 years…My wife June lived almost 12 years from the time of her first symptoms in 1997, which is much longer than normal. My mother Ellen lived 6 years following her diagnosis…Charlton Heston lived just over 5 years…There is no way President Reagan could have had Alzheimer’s dating back to the last years of his presidency in 1985-1988 and lived for up to 20 years longer as he did. (2004) Mayo Clinic defined Reagan’s Alzheimer’s as early stage in 1994. If the malicious accusations were true, Mayo Clinic would have had to find President Reagan to be in late middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s at the time of their diagnosis in 1994. Instead Mayo’s findings were that of early stages in 1994…The current definition of early stage Alzheimer’s is: “Mild Cognitive Impairment that does not interfere with daily activities.”

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Michael Reagan on his father’s Alzheimer’s…  (CBS News 17 January 2011)  "Ron, my brother was an embarrassment to his father when he was alive* and today he became an embarrassment to his mother." (Reference to Ron Reagan’s  book* (My Father at 100) in which he suggested that his father  might have had Alzheimer’s while in office as President.)…"It absolutely offends me that somebody would say that when there's no evidence anywhere on the planet to back it up," When Michael was  then asked if his father might have had Dementia instead…"No, he didn't have dementia," Reagan said. "Look what he accomplished in the last four years of his presidency: Reykjavik, S.T.A.R.T. agreements, all the things he accomplished. The speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987 on June 12th. "Someone with dementia does not accomplish all of those things," he said….When he was asked if Reagan’s poor showing on his first debate with Mondale (late in first term) could have been an indication of the effect of Alzheimer’s…."My father did not have dementia. The fact is, he was overloaded with facts and figures, everybody said that at the time. The next debate, he took Mondale to the cleaners on that one. And the rest is history. He won the biggest election in the history of mankind when he won in 1984." Michael also commented: "In order for that that happen, you would have to have doctors, the Secret Service and other family members all part of the same conspiracy,"  While expressing clear resentment towards his brother, Michael spoke approvingly of those who speak warmly of his father, even those on the left. He told the story of encountering Alec Baldwin at his California gym…"He said, 'Let me tell you something, and I want you to tell your family . . . I miss your father, he says, 'Yes, you know, I bleed liberal blue, but the reality of it is, I just realized lately how much I miss him. And I miss him because your father had a good soul, and what the world is missing is that good soul.”

 *Editorial Note: President Reagan and his son Ron were opposites both on their politics and their religion. The son Ron was a liberal and an atheist..his comments about his father's Alzheimer's would indicate a profound ignorance of the disease.

*When asked about Ron Reagan’s book, the “Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Cal., issued a statement calling Ron's book "wonderfully warm and engaging." But, "as for the topic of Alzheimer's, this subject has been well documented over the years by both President Reagan's personal physicians, physicians who treated him after the diagnosis, as well as those who worked closely with him daily. All are consistent in their view that signs of Alzheimer's did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House."

President Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis:In 1994, when my father disclosed that he had Alzheimer's disease, I was living in New York. The news that Ronald Reagan had willingly told the world about his condition was everywhere, and with the familiarity typical of New Yorkers, people would stop me on the street to express condolences or share their own experiences with the disease.”

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President Reagan's family

(President Reagan and family at Christmas - 1983)

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June Berg 1994It is said that one's remaining life expectancy is reduced to one half after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. President Reagan probably would have lived to be 100 if Alzheimer's had not taken over his life.

 

It was almost 11 exhausting years after June's diagnosis in January of 1998, following early stage short term memory problems that she noted in 1997...before God finally took her home.  June died from Aspiration Pneumonia, a common complication and cause of death for Alzheimer's.

 

June passed away on Thursday 23 October 2008 just  a few days short of her 81st birthday. 

 

Using the rule of shortened life expectancy, one would have expected June to live to approximately 90 plus years.

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 * Because of the high risk factor of age, the veterans of WWII have been hard hit by Alzheimer's Disease. Approximately 50% of the WWII veterans who are  still alive, have this terrible disease.

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Reader's Comments

Marion Reinartz - Cologne, Germany-  (14 October 2012): While thinking of June and I and knowing that June admired President Ronald Reagan, Marion sent us the below picture of her self standing next to and with her hand on a public statue of President Reagan in Budapest, Hungary. Marion is a friend and a part of the international fraternity of Alzheimer's...those persons who are victims of the disease or are caregivers to such victims.  Marion said she was sending greetings from Ronald. This statue of President Reagan from a public square in Budapest is an example of the high regard that the citizens of Budapest held the former president and a thank you for his part in making their quality of life much better! 

President Reagan Budapest

 

Karen Wolfe  - Springfield, Missouri - (9 February 2013): "Stan, I found this very interesting. I have to admit that my interest in politics has increased as I've gotten older so I really wasn't paying much attention during his presidency. Regardless, my opinion is what does it matter? He performed well in office, as far as I know, he increased some awareness when he announced his disease & now he's gone. Why can't our society leave the dead & their remaining family members in peace?!"

 

Sally Gore  - Mason, Ohio - (9 February 2013): "I think President Reagan was very brave to say "Goodbye" and to me that was his way..I could be wrong but that is what I think.. I think he did a great job for having the disease..."
 
Catherine Jones-Hatcher  - Richmond, Virginia - (10 February 2013):"This essay is yet another example of why I believe you really SHOULD  have your website transferred into book form and have it published...... it educates the public, yet has a human element to it as well...You could .arrange for all the profits to go toward research in the future... I really believe it would be a #1. At least look into it..."
 
Rick Candler  - (10 February 2013):"I believe he was the greatest President of my lifetime. A great man and a great leader. We seem to have a shortage of both those characteristics in DC."
 
Lora Rushing Robinson  - Benton, Louisiana - (12 February 2013):"This made me cry, thank you for sharing...I send you a big hug from afar..."
 
Bryn Sineath  - Tallahassee, Florida - (13 February 2013):"Beautiful. It's shame that Maureen passed away so soon as she was an advocate for research on Alz's."

 

 

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June's Passing

 

June 1994

 

June Berg's funeral announcement as published in the Minneapolis Star - Tribune in October 2008 can also be found on this website on the top blue navigation strip under the "In Memoriam" label and on the drop down menu or click on below link:

 

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam"