In these months of seemingly endless political debate, speeches delivered in a strident manner, talking heads on TV and polarized sound bites aplenty, I have been drawn to matters more personal and certainly less fashionable, and garnering less media attention.
The Alzheimer’s Association does a stellar job in promoting every good idea whether it be in fund raising, care giving or medical research. As I wrote in my recent post about the sad passing of Pat Summitt, it can only help when people in the public eye- famous people – cause the media and general public to pay attention, albeit for one or two news cycles.
I was looking back over past awareness communications about Alzheimer’s from famous people, and having happily turned off the TV (!) I was pleased to find a Letter to America from President Ronald Reagan. Now whether you liked his politics or Presidency is irrelevant! You have to admire his spirit, faith, and open honesty combined with a desire to enhance awareness for this terrible disease for which there is still no cure. I share Ronald Reagan’s Letter to America below:
“Nov. 5, 1994
My Fellow Americans,
I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans 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 open disclosures 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.
So 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.
I was particularly moved by President Reagan’s concern for his wife Nancy. He clearly understood how the burden would shift to her as the care partner in the years that were to follow. Indeed years later, Mrs. Reagan sadly told ABC newscaster Diane Sawyer that “his days are pretty well-defined, I don’t have to plan anything.”
“Occasionally” the clouds part and her husband was like himself again, Mrs. Reagan told Ms. Sawyer.
“If it comes, it comes, and you are happy, grateful,” she said. But while she felt he always could tell how much she loved him, he only “sometimes” knew who she was.
“You come to realize more than ever that we’re all here for a certain space of time, and then it’s going to be over. And you better make this count,” Mrs. Reagan said.
She described it as “a very long goodbye”.
On a much more positive note it is important to recall that within a year of his most famous letter the Reagan’s founded the Ronald Reagan Research Institute in concert with the not-for-profit Alzheimer’s Association and it is widely regarded as the single most important beginning in raising awareness for this disease and its consequences. So, politics aside America will always be grateful for President Reagan’s wisdom and humanity.
Fast forward to recent times and we note other well known people who have sought to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. For example the country singing star, Glen Campbell and PBS star Rick Steves who is famous for his excellent travel documentaries. Rick lost his mother to Alzheimer’s and is a vociferous advocate for caregiver counseling and the need for patient day care services: both services are of course at the heart of Memory Matters local community services.
Peter Oosterhuis, the popular CBS golf commentator is still going through the early stages of the disease and bravely decided to talk about it and give a Golf Digest magazine interview and later a TV interview with the loveable raconteur, David Feherty, whose own father has Alzheimer’s and has not recognized him for the past two years.
A particularly poignant comment to Golf Digest from Peter Oosterhuis was this: “I’m human, though. Last week, a call came to our apartment for Roothie (Peter’s wife) while she was out. The message was fairly important. When she got home, I couldn’t recall what the message was, or even who called. I sat there racking my brain without success, and after a while I broke into tears. Tears of frustration. It’s hard for the average person to understand how forgetting a simple phone message could make one so emotional”.
“We want to give a voice and a face to this disease and we want to give others who get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a better chance than we have,” Roothie says.
The more people who like these follow the Ronald Reagan precedent the sooner we will find a cure to “the long goodbye”!
If you want to learn more about Memory Matters please call 1 843 842 6688, and do share this if you believe it could help someone.