The son of President Ronald Reagan suggests in an as-yet-unpublished book that his father was exhibiting the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's disease while still serving as President of the United States.
Alzheimer's disease is a brain condition that interferes with memory and behavior, which usually starts small and develops into a debilitating form of dementia.
Ron Reagan's book, titled "My Father at 100," was to mark what would have been President Reagan's 100th birthday on Feb. 6, 2011. President Reagan died in June 2004.
But his son, who's identified himself as a liberal and an atheist, wrote that in 1984, as his father went on to become the oldest president ever reelected at age 74, the younger Reagan began to "experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true" with regards to his father's mental condition.
He'd already suspected "something beyond mellowing" had begun to affect President Reagan and characterized his debate performance against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale as "fumbling," "lost," "tired and bewildered."
The younger Reagan added that as early as 1986, his father had become alarmed at his growing lack of certain memories. "[He] had been alarmed to discover, while flying over the familiar canyons north of Los Angeles, that he could no longer summon their names," Reagan wrote.
He specified that had his father been told then that he was developing Alzheimer's, he probably would have resigned.
The younger Reagan also mentions an incident that went completely unreported in the media and remains unsupported in publicly available history to-date: that when his father was bucked off a horse while visiting Mexico in 1989, doctors actually had to remove part of the president's skull to relieve swelling on his brain.
That's when they first noticed physical signs of decay, he explained.
The incident was reported at the time as a minor injury, with Reagan ostensibly being treated for bruises and scrapes.
"There were no reports of Reagan with a shaved head or skull stitches later that month when he served as a guest TV announcer at the July 11 baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif., or when he was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City on July 21," Paul Bedard wrote for the Washington Whispers blog at US News and World Reports.
Many of Reagan's liberal critics suggested then and still maintain today that he was essentially a corporate spokesman for the finance industries, serving as a frontman for a full-bore assault on labor unions and the further dismantling of US infrastructure and safety net programs.
President Reagan was said to have not experienced the "tell-tale" signs of Alzheimer's until 1993, before his official diagnosis in late 1994. But if his son is correct, the history of a president lionized by virtually all of today's Republicans could come to be seen under a very different light.
Three years into his first term as president, though, I was feeling the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father. We had always argued over this issue or that, rarely with anything approaching belligerence, but vigorously all the same. He generally had the advantage of practiced talking points backed up by staff research, but I was an unabashed, occasionally effective advocate for my own positions. 'He told me you make him feel stupid,' my mother once shared, to my alarm. I didn't want my father to feel stupid. If he was going to shoulder massive responsibility, I wanted him to feel on top of his game. If he was going to fulfill his duties as president, he would have to be." Pages 204-205
"Watching the first of his two debates with 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, I began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true. At 73, Ronald Reagan would be the oldest president ever reelected. Some voters were beginning to imagine grandpa—who can never find his reading glasses—in charge of a bristling nuclear arsenal, and it was making them nervous. Worse, my father now seemed to be giving them legitimate reason for concern. My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered." Page 205.
"My father might himself have suspected that all was not as it should be. As far back as August 1986 he had been alarmed to discover, while flying over the familiar canyons north of Los Angeles, that he could no longer summon their names." Page 218.
"In July 1989, barely six months out of office, my father visited friends in Mexico. While out riding he was thrown when his horse shied at something in the trailside scrub. That my father, even at age 78, would be bucked off his mount was, in itself, an ominous sign. It's a wonder he didn't break any bones, but he did hit his head hard enough to cause a sizable contusion. After initially refusing medical attention, he ultimately relented and was transported to a hospital in San Diego. Surgeons opening his skull to relieve pressure on the brain emerged from the operating room with the news that they had detected what they took to be probable signs of Alzheimer's disease. No formal diagnosis was given, as far as I know. I have since learned from a doctor who happened to be interning at the hospital when my father was brought in that surgeons involved in his care, in what my informant characterized as 'shameful' behavior, violated my father's right to medical privacy by subsequently gossiping about his condition." Page 217.
"Doctors recommended to my mother that further tests of cognition be conducted the following year to measure any decline. Those tests, at the Mayo Clinic, confirmed the initial suspicion of Alzheimer's." Page 217.
"I've seen no evidence that my father (or anyone else) was aware of his medical condition while he was in office. Had the diagnosis been made in, say 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have. Far less was known about the disease then, of course, than is known now. Today we are aware that the physiological and neurological changes associated with Alzheimer's can be in evidence years, even decades, before identifiable symptoms arise. The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's while in office more or less answers itself." Pages 217-218.