Reagan's son: Father showed signs of Alzheimer's in White House
January 14th, 2011
08:32 PM ET
11 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. BinMesa

    Finally someone tells the truth. Thank you Ron! To his doctors I say: Give me a break, history will say you covered up the Presidents illness or you were incompetent.

    January 15, 2011 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  2. Sherri W.W.#1~ILLinois

    While I am complete fan,and supporter of everthing President Obama does,and the Republican party I was raised in,has driven me clear away~No matter what anybody says about President Ronald Reagan,I believed he was a pretty great leader at the time~and I still believe that today! The repubs today could take many lessons from him.Can you imagine the proper Reagan,acting like like some of their party does now?Good Lord~He would have had a fit! And his son should be ashamed to write such things!

    January 15, 2011 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  3. popnfresh

    I remember the Reagan years very well and it was very evident, certainly by the beginning of his second term, that Ronnie was beginning to lose his marbles. I remember how Nancy Reagan began to hover close him in public appearances, feeding him lines when he became confused. Those former officials who were in Reagan's inner circle back then and are still denying that anyone suspected that Reagan's mind was beginning to slide are quite simply lying. Of course they knew. There was a cover-up back then and they're still covering up today. We'll probably have to wait for the last of them to die before the lid is blown off this one. But at least the son isn't afraid of telling the truth now.

    January 15, 2011 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  4. AWj

    Oh, come on! Anybody who ever had a relative with Alzheimer's knew Reagan had it. There were a million signs. Ron Jr may have noticed it earlier than the rest of us, but by the middle of his second term it was patently obvious. He couldn't distinguish real memories from his film roles, Nancy had to prompt him when he forgot words– there was no way you could miss it. I'm sure he was still lucid enough that important decisions could be delayed until he was competent to handle them, but anybody who claims they didn't see it is in denial.

    January 15, 2011 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  5. Robert Cardona

    Ah, the silly things children say.

    January 15, 2011 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  6. Elle

    I agree with Ron Jr. President Reagan did show signs of Alzheimers while he was in the White House. Many of his administration didn't realize what the symptoms were. This disease tricks even the best physicians in the study of this disease. As we know that Bill Bennet has gambling issues and he may have manipulated President Reagan in his tricky ways to get Bennet agendas pushed through. And how did Supreme Court Justice Scalia get nominated and vetted through Congress? It was usage of manipulation that Reagan may have said he preferred not and administration staffers may have preferred to do so. Therefore, we may need to go back and examine who pushed through what in that administration especially second term.

    January 15, 2011 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  7. cynthia zell

    It was very obvious to me that Regan had Alzhiemers by the end of his first term as president. He could never answer a question, when asked a question he tried to blow it off with a joke! He never made any sense.

    January 15, 2011 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  8. Elle

    Alzheimer usually begins about 20 years out from onset. Symptoms can be cast off as being "too busy", tired, or absent minded. Since President Reagan died in 2004, you substract 20 years and you get 1984. When attempted assassination on President Reagan was in 1981, that injury could have started his downward spiral from possible depression episodes, blood pressure, heart disease. Also when Reagan became president, he was already past 65 years of age, the year we now are looking to do mental tests that determine cognitive and coping skills. Therefore, in the 2nd term of Reagan's Administration, we need to go back and walk through those decisions that were made to see who really made them: Reagan or his men?

    January 15, 2011 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  9. Angela Birch

    I suspected he was loosening his grip when he seemed confused about Iran Contra . It said to me that he was either a liar or he was becoming confused. I would prefer to think he was confused, it is a kinder explaination.

    January 15, 2011 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  10. Neville

    Protecting a country's history and a President's legacy is important, verry important, but we all know there are a myriad things Reagan could not recall. He may have been in command at the moment, but did he know what happenned yesterday?

    January 15, 2011 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  11. Bob

    Whatever the case, Reagan ended the Cold War and managed to dissolve the USSR and unify Germany. Who cares if he was senile, he DID IT!

    January 15, 2011 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  12. Doug

    I can't believe anyone would deny the was having problems while president.. Nancy Reagan was at his side during most speeches and gave him the words many times through the side of her mouth.. Everyone seems to speak up on this subject except Nancy, come on Nancy, tell the truth..

    January 15, 2011 02:12 am at 2:12 am |
  13. stevetall

    This is not news. Anyone who was paying any attention at all knew Ron was losing his marbles, even before he became president. I mean, honestly. How often did we have to hear, "I don't recall" from this guy to know, Sheesh!

    January 15, 2011 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  14. oh please

    WHY NOW?

    ya know no one cares about this right?. Do you guys report news anymore or just hype [peoples books for them

    January 15, 2011 02:34 am at 2:34 am |
  15. sharon

    My dad had Alzheimers'. He had it for 20 years when he passed it away. In some people it progresses faster than in others.
    Our family didn't really realize that we had missed the early symptoms my dad had.

    My partner has it too. It has progressed very far yet. It is a long hard road of a disease. Don't be so quick to dismiss what Ron Reagan says. He was family.

    January 15, 2011 02:53 am at 2:53 am |
  16. M. Irish

    I distinctly remember saying to my daughter, after watching Reagon on television, "Oh, myGod, he's got Altzheiers too". We were caring for my dad who was suffering from that ghastly disease at the time, and we recognized the signs. We did not find the news "stunning" as Lumbaugh reported when it was announced at that time.

    January 15, 2011 03:13 am at 3:13 am |
  17. Freedom of Speech in the USA

    Pretty sad and pathetic this clown uses this type of accusation to sell his book ebven though everybody else on the planet says it was not the case. I hope he sells NO books.

    January 15, 2011 03:16 am at 3:16 am |
  18. Thatguy371

    Probably none of us except those closest to Reagan can definitively say one way or the other.... but as a casual observer, it did look like he was in the very early stages of it in the last couple years of prez.

    January 15, 2011 03:37 am at 3:37 am |
  19. Anonymous

    Everyone back then knew he had alz's disease, but the debate was quashed in the press. Why nobody did anything is beyond comprehension.

    January 15, 2011 03:43 am at 3:43 am |
  20. clayton

    GW Bush showed advanced signs of Alzheimers for his entire time in office. Its just interesting that he hasn't been diagnosed yet. I could be wrong, but my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers when I was a teen and the problems he had while he was giving speeches reminds me of what she went through before she was diagnosed.

    January 15, 2011 03:57 am at 3:57 am |
  21. dallas007

    This is a easy problem to solve, all that needs to be done is to the plot the progression of the disease over time and extrapolate backwards to the 80's. I suspect we would see that he had the disease but at a low enough levels that it would not have been perceived by anyone outside his family. This could be verified by the comparison to the time evolution of disease in other Alzheimer's patients. Pretty darnn simple if we want the truth!

    January 15, 2011 04:12 am at 4:12 am |
  22. zernarcher

    Yes, he did show signs. My wife worked in nursing, specifically dealing with Alzheimer's patients and insisted he did, watching him giving speeches. She said she saw it in his expression, speech and mannerisms, long before any public statement was made.

    January 15, 2011 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  23. Jim Sibley

    Duh, ya'think? He was fully in command – except when he was napping during cabinet meetings. It was becoming more and more clear as time went on how much he really was in command. I suppose this is a good argument against electing the eldest president ever. Emotion over reason won out again. Of course his staffers are all closing ranks. If they didn't, it would be admitting their own misjudgments.

    January 15, 2011 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  24. tillzen

    "Did Reagan Show Signs of Alzheimers?"

    Sadly only at the end.

    January 15, 2011 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  25. Robyn

    I am so comforted by the fact that Reagan had a good sense of humor about his dementia while he was President.
    I certainly would not wish for him to be troubled by the fact that he was controlling the US nuclear arsenal while mentally incapacitated.
    Fortunately, the deaths of innocent people caused by his incompetence never bothered Ron Reagan.

    January 15, 2011 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
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