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Reagan Invoked in Alzheimer's Plea

Health: Daughter Maureen urges Senate panel to increase research funding. She says the disease makes no 'special arrangements for presidents.'


WASHINGTON — Eleven years ago he handed the keys to the White House to his chosen Republican successor. But now, 89-year-old Ronald Reagan may not even remember that he was the 40th president of the United States.

With Reagan's condition steadily worsening, Maureen Reagan appeared Tuesday before a Senate subcommittee to plead for more research spending to combat the Alzheimer's disease that grips her father's brain.

Six years ago the former Republican president, who lives in Bel-Air with his wife, Nancy, announced in an open letter that he had the illness. How is he doing now?

"I am asked that question wherever I go," Maureen Reagan told the Senate appropriations subcommittee for labor, health and education. "I suspect out of a sincere concern for my father but also, I think, out of some heartfelt hope that maybe he and Nancy are being spared in some small way from the ravages of this terrible disease. Well, I have to report to you that Alzheimer's disease doesn't make special arrangements for presidents or first ladies, or anyone else for that matter."

Reagan, the 55-year-old daughter of the former president from his first marriage to actress Jane Wyman, asked the senators to raise federal spending on Alzheimer's disease research by $100 million. Current spending is more than $460 million a year, according to the Alzheimer's Assn.

On Sept. 30, 1983, then-President Reagan drew national attention to the disease with a proclamation that declared the consequences of Alzheimer's to be "so devastating that it deserves special attention." The proclamation was made 11 years before his own diagnosis.

His daughter, a Sacramento resident and a member of the board of directors of the Alzheimer's Assn., said Tuesday that if the former president could be on Capitol Hill he would commend Congress for supporting increased investment in research.

But Ronald Reagan's memory of his time in Washington is slipping.

Asked whether her father remembered his two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989, his daughter said: "Well, I don't really know. I am sure that some place he does. But the fact is that I remember, and I am sure that millions of people remember, and that's the most important thing."

She added that the former president remains a "handsome devil" and that he appeared to appreciate a cake with green icing that he received on St. Patrick's Day. In recent years he has rarely appeared in public.

More Americans are at risk of suffering Reagan's fate as the population ages. The Alzheimer's Assn. reports that the number of people with the disease will more than triple in the next 50 years, from 4 million to 14 million. By 2025, California alone will have more than 800,000 people with the disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative condition of the brain. People live about eight years with the disease, the association said. Half of all nursing home patients suffer from Alzheimer's and related disorders.

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