Happy 100: Remembering President Reagan’s Contribution to Alzheimer’s Awareness

Eric J. Hall Health Guide
  • AOL's home page today features a "You've Got..." with Ron Reagan discussing what he thinks his father, President Ronald Reagan, would want to be remembered for. It's a tie-in to his dad's centennial birthday on February 6 and Reagan's new book about the 40th President of the United States.

    Of course, the "remembering" part is most appropriate given the President's historic announcement in a handwritten note in November 1994 that, "I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease."

    On the brief video snippet, Reagan remembers his father as kind and gentle. "He did his best," Reagan tells AOL visitors, "and he did what he did for the good of the country."

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    President Reagan at the time had no way of predicting the power-in fact, the long-lasting power-of his announcement about his brain disorder. As it turned out, this is one of the items that falls under what was for "the good of the country."

    There is no doubt that President Reagan's courageous acknowledgement was a cause-changing milestone for American families likewise facing the disease and for society in general. It helped push the cause out there. The disease was so clouded in stigma and denial, barely discussed or diagnosed-and very much taking a back seat to other disease states.

    His letter opened the door to making this disorder more mainstream, but the task ahead would be daunting.

    A dozen years later, in 2006, a survey, I CAN: Investigating Caregivers' Attitudes and Needs, conducted by Harris Interactive for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA), still showed that stigma and denial were rampant. It found that stigma and denial of symptoms can delay a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease by more than two years (28.7 months) on average after symptoms appear. When caregivers are concerned about stigma, delay of diagnosis is even more severe, averaging six years. An AFA survey of Hispanic and African-Americans a year later reinforced that finding.

    I can't help but think: how long from symptoms to diagnosis would it have been had President Reagan not put Alzheimer's disease in the public eye?

    The President's public disclosure also had huge ramifications on the advocacy front. Mrs. Reagan's relentless efforts to bolster research and champion the case of caregivers have also given the disease the spotlight it needs to make headway toward a cure and optimal care.

    There is no doubt that greater awareness and more effective treatments and care practices have emerged over the past 17 years. But there is also no doubt that we have yet to see the overall progress that this disease merits.

    Of late, we are seeing light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Fitting at this time of President Reagan's centennial celebration, major developments are unfolding. Of major significance, there is the recent establishment of the National Alzheimer's Disease Project, with its charge to coordinate government efforts to prevent and treat the disease and create a national strategy to defeat it. This holds much promise.

  • So much more needs to be done, with more funding for scientific advances to prevent and stop the progression of the disease, as well as optimal care interventions, topping the list.

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    As we celebrate President Reagan's 100th birthday, let's look to the generous spirit of the President's public acknowledgement of Alzheimer's disease as inspiration for the nation to steadfastly move forward to conquer this heartbreaking disease.

Published On: February 04, 2011