Reagan's son: Father showed signs of Alzheimer's in White House
January 14th, 2011
08:32 PM ET
12 years ago

Reagan's son: Father showed signs of Alzheimer's in White House

(CNN) - Former President Ronald Reagan's youngest son suggests in a new book that his father showed signs of Alzheimer's disease while he was in the White House.

In the book titled "My Father at 100," which is due out next week, Ron Reagan writes, "Three years into his first term as President … I was feeling the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father."

He writes about watching his father's first debate with Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee.

"I began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true," Ron Reagan writes. He adds: "My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered."

But the younger Reagan also admits, "I've seen no evidence that my father (or anyone else) was aware of his medical condition while he was in office." He then questions: "Had the diagnosis been made in, say, 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have."

Former president Reagan disclosed he had Alzheimer's disease in 1994, five years after he left the White House. Questions have been raised in the past about whether he developed the disease while he was still in office, but suggestions that he did have been widely dismissed.

In an effort to set the record straight, four of the president's White House doctors spoke to the New York Times in 1997 to say the president didn't show evidence of the disease until 1993 and that he was mentally sound while in office. The newspaper reported the doctors said, "they had taken the unusual step of discussing their former patient's medical history publicly because neither they nor Mr. Reagan had covered up any illness, and because they did not want history to see them as having done so."

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon who interviewed the former president more than 100 times said he interviewed him after he left the White House and did not see a difference.

“I think I would have noticed,” Cannon said in a statement. “There’s simply no evidence he had Alzheimer’s while in the White House.”

Cannon said Reagan was “lucid” during their last interview in 1991.

Some people who served in the Reagan administration also are dismissing Ron Reagan's new claims.

Kenneth Duberstein, who served as Reagan's chief of staff at the end of his second term, told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King: "I think Ron these days is mostly in the business of trying to sell books. That's what I think." About the older Reagan, Duberstein said: "Day in, day out, from beginning to end, he was in command. He was fully in command."

Bill Bennett, a CNN contributor who served as education secretary under Reagan said, "In all my interactions with the president, I never witnessed anything in him to give me any concern."

CNN's Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, who was director of communications for Reagan, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room:" "I'm sure Ron has written a good book. I look forward to reading it, but I'm surprised he's revived these claims." Gergen added, "I think (Ron Reagan) got this wrong, but he's a good fellow."

Filed under: Ronald Reagan
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Patrick Emerson

    Ron has written what most of us believed all along. When the president claimed he was unaware of the contra-gate scandal, I believed him then. He was basically a hands-off president on the latter part of his administration. Thanks Ron. Ill buy your book because its truthful.

    January 15, 2011 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  2. Joan

    President Reagan was a good president and he had highs and lows during his time in office. Anyone who has a family member with Altzeimers knows the red flags and it was pretty obvious that during his last couple of years he did indeed have the disease. His handlers did a good job of covering it up and they are still doing it. Luckily nothing catastrophic happened because of it. So much more is known about the disease now and he would have been treated differently. What do his wife and daughter say about all of this? His other son Michael speaks so irrationally at times that he may not be credible. By covering it up they are adding to the stigma of the disease and making it seem shameful which it is not. Everyone should tell the truth, put more effort into finding the cause and treatments for it and let the man rest in peace.

    January 15, 2011 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Lynne

    I'm glad to see someone in the Reagan family is acknowledging that Ronald Reagan was starting to show signs of Alzheimers during the final years of his Presidency. It explains why Nancy was so protective of him. I have always suspected this, or something like it, was happening to him.

    January 15, 2011 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  4. jphilly

    Regan was just a puppet for Bush Sr. everybody knows that. Bush Sr. didnt serve 8 years as president, he served 16!! Just like Bush Jr. was just a puppet for cheney.

    January 15, 2011 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  5. michael

    of course republicans would deny it even though they are not doctors. it would tarnish the image they are trying to hang on to and revive.

    January 15, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  6. Lukas hassel, New York, NY

    Gergen responds to news of this book, that : "I think (Ron Reagan) got this wrong, but he's a good fellow."

    In fairness, who'd have more access to President Reagan during his years of office. Gergen, who got to see the occasional public appearance, or Reagan's son who could see him both publicly and privately?
    Gergen's silly comment is further evidence of how people think they know about people's private lives by watching their public persona, when in fact, most of time, we know little or nothing about people behind their closed doors!

    January 15, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  7. fayse

    I think that President Reagan was a fine man although I did not vote for him. I also think that he should be allowed to rest in peace and even if he was suffering from this illness while in office, his son should not be trying to profit from it.

    January 15, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  8. kay

    Alzheimer does not appear over night. It's the little things that get dismissed.

    January 15, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  9. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    The actor took directions from???

    Reminds me of the W Bush years.

    January 15, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  10. CSD

    So it wasn't Alzheimers when in office? What was the excuse. then?

    January 15, 2011 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  11. Jim8


    Only those under the narcotic effects of the right denied it. It was the issue no one talked about, but everyone knew to be true.
    I remember Reagan was missing most of his second term. I asked all of my conservative friends where he was and they refused to discuss it.

    January 15, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  12. Jim8

    I hope all of those who deride Obama for using a telepromptor to look closely at the photos of Reagan.

    January 15, 2011 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
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