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A Tribute to Maureen Reagan and the Alzheimer's Association

Aired August 18, 2001 - 21:00   ET



MAUREEN REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: We must be the last generation of American families to live without hope.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Ronald Reagan's long goodbye transformed his older daughter into a crusader against Alzheimer's. A tribute to Maureen Reagan's fight against this tragic disease is next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. Maureen Reagan died August 8 after a long battle against cancer. She was the president's daughter and a political figure in her own right, but her greatest legacy may be her fight against Alzheimer's, the disease that hit her beloved father.

Tonight, we honor Maureen's memory and her crusade. In October 2000, I talked with Maureen and medical experts about coping and perhaps curing Alzheimer's.


KING: No one gets better with this disease, right, Maureen?

MAUREEN REAGAN, DAUGHTER OF FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD M. REAGAN: Not yet, Larry, but we're working on it. We're working on ways to prevent this. In your first segment you talked about life expectancy. If we're going to live to be a hundred, we're going to have to solve Alzheimer's.

KING: Is that why we know so much more about it now, people living longer?

M. REAGAN: Yes, absolutely. People -- it is an age-related disease. At 75 of age, it's about 25 percent. At 85 years of age, it's about 50 percent. And if you get to 90 years of age, you're about 80 percent. So...

KING: So when people were dying at 65, we never heard of it.

M. REAGAN: Yes, something else got you before the Alzheimer's did, that's right.

KING: What's the worst thing about it, Maureen?

M. REAGAN: Well, the worst thing about it is that you start out with a death sentence. It's a terminal illness. The brain tells the body everything to do, and eventually it will tell it to stop breathing. But then you come back 180 degrees, and you live for years with a patient who just deteriorates: losing memory, and then finally, function. And through that time you know that there is nothing you can do to make it better.

KING: Dr. Dean Ornish, in the field of prevention, do you think or do you know whether it is preventable, or can we slow down its onset?

DR. DEAN ORNISH, AUTHOR, "EAT MORE, WEIGH LESS": There's a lot of evidence that lifestyle choices may begin to affect it. Some studies suggest even things like fish oil capsules may play a role.

KING: Dr. Ulene, do we have any evidence about vitamins and Alzheimer's?

DR. ART ULENE, "DR. ART ULENE'S COMPLETE GUIDE TO VITAMINS, MINERALS AND HERBS": Actually, there's one very interesting study in which high doses of vitamin E appeared to prolong the functioning ability to some extent, a very modest effect, but it was an interesting effect.

Larry, I believe the answer to diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease, so many of these diseases is going to lie in an increased commitment to research. If the folks watching tonight could take any message home, it's to support increased research into all of these diseases.

Heart disease kills more people every year than all of the wars in the history of the United States combined. We are making progress, and it is time for us to invest more heavily in this. I believe we can turn over a world free of cancer, free of heart disease and free of Alzheimer's to our grandchildren if we simply commit more to research now.

KING: Maureen, would you agree with that?

M. REAGAN: Well, I certainly would. I testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee just last week, Larry, and the thing that we asked for among other things was an additional $100 million for Alzheimer's research. The money that is available in the National Institutes of Health right now for Alzheimer's research will only fund about 22 percent of the viable grant requests that are received.

It's like a triangle. One leg of it is what the government does. One leg is what the pharmaceutical companies do, and one leg is what we in the Alzheimer's Association do.

But the National Institutes of Health, as a government agency, has an incredible opportunity to use public funds, and the vitamin E studies that are under way right now are because of those grants. In addition, we're testing Ibuprofen, ginkgo biloba, estrogen, because these are readily available things that we can tell people within five years, if you take such and such at such and such an age, you will help protect yourself in later years.

KING: What does your father take?

M. REAGAN: My father, he doesn't take medications now...

KING: No medication.

M. REAGAN: ... but he exercised regularly, as you well know. He always was very finicky about his diet. He took antioxidants. He did all the things that you're supposed to do, and yet, he still has Alzheimer's.

KING: You were at NIH. Is she right?

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, AMERICAN RED CROSS: I ran it. I -- there is no question...

KING: You ran NIH.

HEALY: I ran NIH, and it was one of the most magnificent experiences, because you really see, Larry, that the future of every one of us is really NIH. I mean, every one of us has been blessed by NIH's work and every one of us in the future will benefit from it.

With regard to Alzheimer's, though, this is a very complicated puzzle. And you know, there are some interesting facts. First of all, did you know that women had more Alzheimer's than men, even when you correct for the fact that they do live longer. Estrogen may or may not play a role but there's provocative information that post- menopausal estrogen may be important, and in a very positive way, that using your brain may help ward off certainly the early phases of loss of...

KING: There are some drugs now that make it come slower, right?

HEALY: That are suggested.

KING: Yes.

HEALY: But I think -- but the notion, you know, we talk about exercise and with regard to our skeletal health, our muscles, well, in fact, using your brain, as people get older they should be reading, they should be in book clubs, they should be doing crossword puzzles...

KING: But who would use a brain more than a president?

HEALY: Well, of course, that is -- that may well be an exception, but we're talking about things that can prevent and delay the onset of this.

KING: We'll get Dr. Johnson's thoughts and spend a little more -- some more moments with Maureen as well. This is Larry King. Don't go away.


M. REAGAN: Even if you were to come up with a way to end this disease today, there would still be four million -- or to prevent it, there would still be over four million Americans, like my father, who would still need care, so we need to examine both sides, not only how we prevent the disease, but how we deal with those people who are suffering.

So, for my father and for Nancy and for all the individuals and caregivers across America who are praying for health, I plead with you to redouble our efforts.



KING: Before we take a call for Maureen, Dr. Timothy Johnson, Dr. Healy was just telling me the one thing we don't have with Alzheimer's is a test to tell us you have it.

DR. TIM JOHNSON, MEDICAL EDITOR, ABC NEWS: That's right. The only definitive test, unfortunately, is a brain biopsy, and obviously, that's not a usable test for screening.

I firmly believe that with any disease, the only way we're going to have truly effective prevention and/or treatment is to have a precise understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of that disease.

KING: Right.

JOHNSON: We're not there yet with Alzheimer's, but we're getting close. We read hints all the time of new biological discoveries. And I just have a feeling in my bones that within the next decade we will arrive at a point that where we have a precise enough understanding that we really can have some truly effective prevention and treatment...

KING: Next decade?

JOHNSON: Next decade, I'm betting on it.

KING: Seymour, Indiana, on the phone, hello?

CALLER: Yes, question for Maureen Reagan.

KING: Sure.


CALLER: Is Alzheimer's disease a hereditary disease?

M. REAGAN: Well, there...

KING: Do you fear it?

M. REAGAN: I don't fear it, no. We've got to stop being afraid of this disease and confront it. I'm at war with Alzheimer's, and I plan to win.

There are some genetic markers that have to do with Alzheimer's, but again, you have to live long enough. So something else may get you first.

KING: You're confident, Dr. Healy -- I know you were shaking your head when Dr. Johnson was talking. You think it's going to happen, too?

HEALY: I think that's right. I think the biology is mature enough. We know about processing enzymes, they're related to this amyloid protein, which basically kills nerve cells. And I think if we can find a way to diagnose early, maybe with something like functional MRI, where we can see very early Alzheimer's, and then we can block some of these processing enzymes, we could actually arrest it in its early phase. And if you can arrest it in its early phase for five, 10 years, you know, you really have the disease essentially cured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've bought a last time.

KING: It's a shame though, isn't it, that you need a famous person to get it before you really focus on it?

HEALY: And how wonderful that President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan have allowed their secret, which could have been a secret, to be given to the public.

KING: That's right, Maureen. They could have kept this quiet.

M. REAGAN: Well, they could have, but that wouldn't be their way of doing things, would it, Larry?

KING: No. So you remain very confident that -- we're not going to cure your father. We know that, right? That's not going to happen.

M. REAGAN: No, but we -- we are all determined, we in our family and those of us who work together in the Alzheimer's Association, are determined that we are the last generation of families that will have to live without hope. We believe that with the treatments now, if we can find it early enough, that can buy people some time, and with what we know is coming online, we really believe that the next generation of families that face this disease will at least have hope. They will have something that they can do to make it better.



M. REAGAN: And in 1994, when he wrote his letter to the American people, told them that he had this disease and that he knew what was coming, he made it all right to talk about it. He brought it out into the open, and he caused light to shine in the lives of families who had dealt quietly and very much alone.

And between his letter and the fact that the Alzheimer's Association over the last 20 years has worked so hard to bring attention to this disease, I think -- he has always been my hero, but never more so then when he did that.



KING: Welcome back. Tonight, we're paying tribute to Maureen Reagan and her battle against Alzheimer's. In July 1999, we were joined by relatives of Alzheimer's victims. Also with us, Dr. Ron Petersen, President Reagan's physician, and director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.


KING: Can you briefly tell us -- and maybe this is simpleton, but we get so used to something we forget -- too close to the forest for the trees. What is Alzheimer's disease?

DR. RON PETERSEN, MAYO CLINIC: Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain. And what that means is that the nerve cells in the brain -- the neurons, as they're called in the brain -- just cease functioning in their normal fashion.

So if the nerve cells that were involved in memory stop working, then the person becomes forgetful. If the nerve cells that were involved in problem solving and reasoning skills become involved, then the person has difficulty with those particular cognitive functions.

This begins very insidiously, progresses gradually over the course of many years, and ultimately results in the loss of most of our basic functions -- not only cognitively, but functionally as well.

KING: Let's meet each of our guests and thank them first for coming, and the doctor, of course, will be included all the way and later your phone calls.

Angie, what did you first notice about your sister?

ANGIE DICKINSON, ACTRESS: Well, just odd behavior. I would like to tell different stories, as I have spoken about it on your show before, but I have to tell the truth.

One that started -- the very first one was leaving Christmas presents in the trunk of the car for many months, not giving them to her children and grandchildren -- that I was passing on to them and found them. And then it's not so much that they were -- that she left them in there, but that when she was told about it, it didn't faze her. You know, she was mystified.

That's the horrible thing, in my opinion, about Alzheimer's, is the horror of I've done something and I can't account for what I've done. KING: How would you describe her now today?

DICKINSON: Oh, the last 10 years, she's been totally incapacitated.

KING: Is she hospitalized?

DICKINSON: Oh, yes. Well, in a nursing home.

KING: She doesn't recognize you?

DICKINSON: Not to my knowledge. She still will get tears if I will say something about our mother or something like that, so there is some awareness. When -- it just peaks through every once in a while. That's why I still go to see her often, just in case there's that little connection.

KING: Does the hospital specialize in this or is it just...

DICKINSON: No. This happens to be in Sun Valley, California -- Villa Scalabrini (ph), which is a great place. And they took her because she was not a wanderer and they could manage her.

KING: Willard, when did your mother pass away?


KING: Did she die of Alzheimer's or with Alzheimer's?

SCOTT: With Alzheimer's, yes. And she -- I guess she -- the first time I noticed it -- talking about Angie and noticing her sister -- my mother was about 55 years old. And one night she got up and walked around the room and she actually fainted and hurt her head a little bit.

And in retrospect, as I go back, I think that was the first time that I ever noticed anything. After that happened, where she started to act a little strangely -- forgetful, couldn't balance a checkbook over a period of time, and -- and so it went on until she was about 72 years old.

KING: Do you chalk it up initially to aging and senility, the typical things we think about?

SCOTT: Yes, and I think people get really upset. I know I do. Have you ever done something like you're fixing breakfast...

KING: Lose your key.

SCOTT: Yes, that's right, or put your -- you make coffee and you put the coffee up in the cupboard and then you put the coffeepot in the refrigerator. I mean, things like that that have a little, you know, forgetfulness to it. Of course, that's not the same thing in any way, shape or form, although it might start that way.

But you know what I notice too, Larry -- the one thing that Angie was talking about visiting her sister -- I found with my mother, the last form of communication that we had -- and it was beautiful, but very sad -- but she responded to a touch. You could hold her hand and that would calm her down, and she seemed to actually understand some communication there, because the last words she ever spoke to me, she said, "I think I know who you are." And you know, it breaks your heart.

KING: We're going to take break and get the story of Linda and Shelley and bring the doctor back in, have a major discussion on this. Don't go away.


NANCY REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S WIFE: When we learned of his illness, Alzheimer's, he made the decision to write this letter to the American people, and the people responded, as they always do. I can't tell you what your cards and letters meant for both of us. The love and affection from thousands of Americans has been and continues to be a strengthening force for Ronnie and me each and every day.

We learned, as too many other families learned, of the terrible pain and loneliness that must be endured as each day brings another reminder of this very long goodbye.



KING: Linda Dano, we'll bring you in now. Can you give us a little history of what happened with your dad?

LINDA DANO, ACTRESS: My father -- I didn't live with my mom and dad when this all began. I was in New York and they were in California. And -- but odd things, like Angie and Willard both said, keys and his money, and he'd get very agitated. And my mother, who was the only caretaker at the time, she kept all of that from me. She didn't really let me know that there was something going on. I'm not even sure that she knew.

KING: Didn't you talk to him?

DANO: Yes, and he was fine and he knew me. When my father -- when I realized that this was Alzheimer's or what I thought it was, was Alzheimer's, is when we moved my mom and dad to New York so I could become more of a caretaker with my husband Frank. And my father, from the time he got on the airplane and got to New York, he -- we lost him. He disappeared, and I never saw him again.

KING: What do you mean?

DANO: He never knew me again.

KING: He landed at the airport and didn't know you?

DANO: He didn't know my name. He came into the house. He was extremely agitated. He became violent. He fell. Oh, it was an awful 48-hour period. And I -- and we were so uninformed and -- and so naive about what was going on. And it was so frightening to my mother and to us, and I never -- I could never reach him again, only in brief, brief little moments in the next three years did my father -- did I feel that he knew who I was.

KING: Did he die with it or of it?

DANO: With it.

KING: With it. He died of another thing.

DANO: Yes, he died -- my father was very elderly, 85 years old, and he finally had gotten pneumonia, and he passed away. That was the cause of death. But he was really strapped in a wheelchair every day. It was difficult to get him in and out of a bed. It was a terrible three years.

KING: Shelley, what happened with your mom?

SHELLEY FABARES, ACTRESS: Well, listening to all of these stories, it's sort of like -- I could almost sit here and just go, ditto, ditto, ditto, it's -- all of our stories are so similar.

But in the case of my mother, who passed away in 1992, in 1984 my sister and I began noticing just slight behavioral changes, but at the time, you had no idea -- or I had no idea, my sister had no idea, that it -- what we were looking at. We just thought, as you asked a moment ago, that perhaps this was a sign of aging or just having a bad day.

You know, my mother was still very active. She was a businesswoman. She was in the mortgaging area of work, and was a ballroom dancer and had a very full life going on. But there were these behavioral changes. My mother had always been a very sweet, very quiet, very fair-minded woman, and she became belligerent, and she would be angry at the drop of a hat and just out of the blue.

There was -- and it was -- there's that wonderful moment in "Moonstruck," where Cher hits Nicolas Cage, and he says "I Love You" and she slaps him and says: "Well, you know, snap out of it." It sounds too easy to say this now, but that's what my sister and I kept wanting to say to my mother, because she seemed to have just dropped into some odd behavior for that moment, and it was like, snap out of it, mom.

KING: And did she die of it?

FABARES: No one dies of it. You die with it. Your question is profound.

KING: You don't die of it?

FABARES: No, my understanding is...

KING: So if you stay everything else healthy, this will not take your life?

FABARES: This -- the body shuts down.

KING: Now, doctor, in each of these cases -- Angie's sister is living; the other three lost their father and two mothers -- what was happening, without being too technical, to these people on a monthly basis where we notice one thing and then another? What was taking place?

PETERSEN: Generally, over time, the brain shuts down, various processes that are controlled by these various regions of the brain are shutting down, and so we see the behavior that results from that particular part of the brain as deteriorating. And gradually, that's what we've seen in all of these individuals, that these basic bodily functions tend to cease to exist.

KING: And it always gets worse? In other words, some things stop, and then other things -- it never just has one thing and then stops?

PETERSEN: It's not a uniform process, insofar as the entire brain shuts down together, but various parts of the brain will cease to function effectively and then gradually shut down. So -- but it is a progressive function so that it happens over time.

KING: How do you know it's Alzheimer's and not just forgetfulness of aging, because we all forget things, or senility?

PETERSEN: That's a very good question. The whole area of the borderland between what is normal aging and very, very early Alzheimer's disease is an intensively investigated area of research currently. And I think we're learning more and more about that borderland between normal aging and early Alzheimer's disease. And, certainly, we're studying memory as the primary function that becomes impaired.

KING: How does the doctor know, when he sees the patient, if it's Alzheimer's?

PETERSEN: The doctor primarily will examine -- will take a history from the patient, examine the patient and, importantly, examine other people who know the patient well. And it's primarily from this history, from the other individuals, that gives a clue as to, is this normal or abnormal.

KING: There's no blood test?

PETERSEN: That's correct. There's no blood test. There's no X- ray that's going to make the diagnosis for you.

KING: We'll talk about care giving and new developments and take your phone calls right after this.



RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill provides new help and hope for the victims of Alzheimer's disease and their families. As you know, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of intellectual impairment in older Americans. Until recently, this indiscriminate killer of mind and life had gone virtually undetected, with the families of its victims virtually helpless. This legislation means more help is on the way.



KING: Tonight, we are paying tribute to Maureen Reagan. She was on the board of directors of the Alzheimer's Association. Its purpose is to fund research and help those affected by the disease. The Association, by the way, has set up a Maureen Reagan Tribute Fund. To find out more, you can call 1-800-272-3900, or check the Internet at

And now, more from our 1999 show.


KING: What do you say -- what do you look for, Angie? What do you say to people who say, I think my father -- I think something's the matter?

DICKINSON: The thing that I -- and I hope Dr. Petersen will interject and tell me if I'm not correct on this. But, for instance, somebody said: I am worried about my mother. And I said, if she used to do cooking, see if she can still follow a recipe. If she liked crossword puzzles, can she still do that as easily, jigsaw puzzles. Whatever they used to do, can they do it as well, sequential behavior, as before? Don't try a new skill.

KING: That's a big sign?

DICKINSON: And that's a big tip off.

KING: Doctor, do you agree?

PETERSEN: Absolutely, she's hit it right on the nail.

KING: Willard, when you're the caregiver, what do you do with the frustration, when your mother -- when it gets to the point where she doesn't recognize you? What do you do with it?

SCOTT: Well, there's a sadness that's beyond description. I would just thank God that I'd at least had her for the times that I had her over the years, because she was such a sweet and gentle person. And there's nothing you can do, which is part of the frustration that the caregiver has. I don't -- as sad as I think we feel for ourselves as caregivers, I don't think we can even anywhere near come close to how sorry we feel for them.

KING: Shelley, are they going through a panic? A daily panic.

FABARES: Oh yes, I believe so. The last full sentence that my mother said to me was, "I feel like I'm losing my mind," and of course, she was, but she actually thought she was going crazy. She was not, she was descending into Alzheimer's.

But one of the things that I would like to say that I think people can do -- it was enormously helpful to me -- and that was to call the Alzheimer's Association because one of the things that we do -- I am a member of the board of directors, but I got there because they were so helpful to me -- but one of the things that we do through our chapters throughout the country, and on a national basis, is provide support groups for caregivers and actual support groups for the patients in the early stages.

KING: We have the number: 1-800-272-3900. That's the Alzheimer's Association. 1-800-272-3900.

Linda, what was the most difficult part for you in those last three years?

DANO: Oh, there were so many things. My frustration and my pain, I suppose, was because I couldn't stop this, I couldn't make it better for my dad.

KING: You can't shake him.

DANO: I couldn't. I didn't know what he felt. I didn't know what was going on. He would cry, and I knew he was so agitated, and afraid, and I couldn't make that better.

The thing that I also want to say, along with Shelley, is that I didn't have enough information, Larry. I didn't know enough. When my father came east with my mother, I was really overwhelmed with decisions: What to do, how to help him. If I had been able at that time to call the Alzheimer's Association and have them help me and get into a group, I think it would have helped me enormously.

When my father was finally diagnosed and put into a nursing home here in New York, and one close that my mother and I could go to every day, I would cry every single day. I just -- I didn't know if he knew me, if he saw me, if he could connect, and I kept going, hoping. And all I can say to people that are going through this is that it is the most incredible pain for both the patient and for the family.

KING: Let me take -- let me get a break right there. Hold it.


KING: We'll come right back, Linda. We're going to ask the doctor what he thinks is going on inside the mind of the -- what the Alzheimer's patient is feeling, about new developments, and -- if that's possible -- and why there's so much more of it now apparently. Was it here 30 years ago? And we'll take your calls. Don't go away.



KING: When did you first notice?

N. REAGAN: I didn't.

KING: You never noticed the Alzheimer's?

N. REAGAN: No, no. We went to Mayo in August of that year.

KING: Was that the normal memory slippages that older people have?

N. REAGAN: Well, yes.

KING: You know, I forgot his name.

N. REAGAN: I mean, you forgot -- you forget names, I forget names.

KING: We never had lunch today.

N. REAGAN: So, no, I didn't notice anything.

KING: And what happened at Mayo?

N. REAGAN: Well, they diagnosed him with Alzheimer's.

KING: And they came and told you?


KING: Did you get a second opinion? Did you -- what...


N. REAGAN: Well, we've been going to Mayo's for so long and I knew all the doctors so well, I accepted what they said. But of course, nobody can ever know what it's like until you're there.




KING: Willard, did you ever have a period with your mother of hope of getting better?

SCOTT: Never. No.

KING: Never?

SCOTT: Not after the first couple of years when we saw what was happening. And as Angie said, with great somberness, I'm sure, because I feel the same way, I never thought I would ever pray for my mother's passing, but I prayed for her passing toward the end every day, because that was the only peace she was ever going to find. KING: Except, Shelley, in an other disease -- unless there's severe pain and it's the end and they're in a hospice, there's always hope with other diseases.

FABARES: Yes, that's right.

KING: Even if you have cancer of the liver and it's spread and someone says, you have eight months, you still say, boy, he's going to lick it, right? You don't have that with this?

FABARES: No. At this point in time where we are, we don't have that. Once you have this sentence passed on to you, that is it. As the doctor said, it's totally progressive and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

KING: So Linda, it is a living death, isn't it?

DANO: It is. It really is. It is the long good-bye. And you -- no one ever would want a loved one to endure this. You -- you -- you want it to be over for them so badly that you do, you pray for that moment when they can go and be with God and -- and be at peace.

KING: Do you fear getting it, Angie?

DICKINSON: Oh, yes, I fear getting it, although I'm -- I'm quite a bit past when Mary Lou got it. And so that is reassuring. And I was tested at New York University by Dr. Leoni (ph) -- uh-oh. Dr. Leoni...

KING: See, you forgot his name.


DICKINSON: Oh dear. I forgot -- typical. And that's where you have to have your humor and you say, it's coming.

KING: You've got to have a sense of humor.

DICKINSON: But yes, I fear getting it.

KING: Wardsville, Ontario, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Yes. I would like to ask the doctor if he could explain the difference between Alzheimer's and senile dementia. I have two grandmothers; one died from Alzheimer's and one is still living, but has senile dementia. But they seem to have the same characteristics in the beginning stages. Can he explain the difference between the two?

KING: Good question.

PETERSEN: Good question. Exactly. Senile dementia -- the senile part just refers to the age aspect of the dementia. Dementia is an overriding term implying that the person has lost cognitive abilities and now it's affecting one's ability to function. Of all the dementias, Alzheimer's disease is up and away the most common dementia that is due to degenerative disease. Now, other forms of dementia could be due to strokes or tumors or other metabolic conditions, but Alzheimer's disease is the most common.

So it may be that senile dementia and Alzheimer's disease in this particular instance -- and I don't pretend to understand exactly what's going on with your family -- but it may be the same condition.

KING: Three-quarters of the caregivers are women. Does that surprise you, Shelley?

FABARES: No, doesn't surprise me. Usually those tasks are most often left to women in general. So certainly...

KING: Any advice you give? We'll ask this of each of you. We'll start with you. Advice you would give a caregiver, just discovered that their mate, brother, sister, parent has it?

FABARES: The very first thing I always tell everybody to do is to call the Alzheimer's Association. The motto of our association is "Someone to Stand by You," and this disease is incredibly isolating for the patient as well as for the caregiver. And with the services that we do provide, there is some beacon of light for the caregiver. So, that is absolutely the first thing.

KING: Willard, what would you advise on a personal basis?

SCOTT: Well, Senator Rockefeller hit it on the head as far as I'm concerned: Money, money, money. I mean, we all like to think, you know, we can go by with love and affection, but you need some money.

We were lucky in our family because we all had our little pool of resources and we had neighbors, God bless the neighbors who would come in and help. And in those days, they didn't have day-care centers for Alzheimer's patients. So there was no place to take my mother.

KING: Are you saying this is an expensive disease?

SCOTT: This is an expensive disease, because it does go on and on and on. And you desperately want to keep your family at home. You don't want to send your mother, your father to a nursing home. And there's nothing wrong with that. I learned that for sure, but you want desperately to keep them at home. So you do everything in your power to provide help so they can stay there.

KING: Angie, did you make the decision to put your sister in a home? Was that up to you?

DICKINSON: We all -- it was quite obvious. She had -- we couldn't handle it anymore. And...

KING: Were you sad about that? Is that kind of a giving up or was there no other course?

DICKINSON: No. It's not a giving up. It's just knowing that it has to be. You simply can't handle it anymore and the strain on everyone is so severe, and she's not gaining by not being there, although she was aware.

But I was -- quickly, to tell my advice, is to give -- stay with them as much as you can. Dr. Petersen mentioned it's the present that they live in. You must be with them.

KING: Be around?

DICKINSON: Be around.

KING: Linda, was your father hospitalized?

DANO: He was, and then it was recommended that he go to a nursing home. My father was very violent with the disease. And it took, like, four nurses -- and a couple of them male nurses -- to get him in and out of the bed. So he had to go.

My advice for a caregiver is to find friends and family to relieve them. You have got to give support. You need support. You need to know information. You need to share this disease. Otherwise, my mother, I know, would have just been taken down with my dad.



M. REAGAN: It has to be the hardest for a spouse. Most of us assume that at some point in our lives we're going to take care of our parents, it's just part of growing up and getting older, but to have your life partner disappear before your very eyes and not be able to do anything to make it better has to be the most devastating thing.

And I think Nancy deserves a great deal of credit, because the people who are dealing with this disease throughout the country really can look to her as a role model. She makes sure that every day is as stimulating and as fun as it could be for him, which is all you can do for an Alzheimer's patient, and she kind of directs us in what we can do to be helpful.




KING: What do you do with frustration? You must have that. You must be frustrated when you're with someone who's not cognitive.

N. REAGAN: Well, you just learn to live with it. I mean, what is there to do?

KING: Well, some people -- there are hospitals that specialize in just treating Alzheimer's patients. You would never do that.

N. REAGAN: Oh, no. Oh, no. Never, no, no. He's going to stay at home.

KING: Do you ever hope that maybe the end comes? Would you ever say, you know, maybe it isn't such a life?

N. REAGAN: No, never.

KING: Because he's not in pain.

N. REAGAN: No, he's not in pain, no.



KING: Phoenix, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, my question is also for Dr. Peterson. It's two- fold. First is: what are the biggest misconceptions about Alzheimer's disease? And secondly: are there groups or cultures of people that are more susceptible, you know, namely blacks, whites, Native Americans, Hispanics, that are more susceptible or likely to fall to this disease than others?

KING: Good question -- doctor.

PETERSEN: I think the misconceptions that you're -- perhaps you're alluding to are the fact that forgetfulness -- in fact, what our colleagues on the program have commented on -- forgetfulness over and above what is just felt to be parts of normal aging is a part of -- well, you're 80, you're 85 years old, you're getting senile; that's normal.

That's not normal, and I think that many people can live into older years in completely functional status with very little forgetfulness. So I think the misconception that aging and memory impairment and significant senility are part of normal aging is probably not correct.

KING: And what about incidents among ethnic groups?

PETERSEN: I think there are some differences, certainly -- this is a worldwide phenomenon, though. I think that it is seen in Europe, and Asia, and all around the world.

However, there are certain cultures that have different rates of the disease, and -- for example, in the Orient -- in China, they have somewhat different rates of the disease. There are different rates among African-Americans, among Hispanics, and these are being studied epidemiologically to see if there's something, either genetically, or in the lifestyle, or in the environment, that may in fact give us clues to the disease.

KING: I certainly want to get a couple of more calls in, but quickly, doctor, some people have called -- any holistic medicine like ginkgo biloba, or there are various things -- ginko-type medications that you see in health food stores, helpful?

PETERSEN: I think it's premature to say that these are in fact helpful. Ginkgo has probably been studied more intensively than some of the other supplements. There's one study in the U.S., several studies in Europe that imply there may be some benefit from this.

But I don't recommend it at this point. I think it's too early to tell, but it is being studied by the National Institutes of Health.

KING: Do you learn anything from the fact that Linda's father got it in a plane trip, I mean, took off, then landed and had a complete -- do you think pressure might have had something to do with it?

PETERSEN: I suspect not. Nothing, in particular, with regard to that flight caused it. I suspect there was a predisposed condition that was there, and perhaps the change of environment, perhaps the trip, the stress, whatever may have...

KING: Triggered it.

PETERSEN: ... contributed to it.

KING: We'll take a break. When we come back, a closing comment from everyone and one more quick phone call right after this.


KING: One more quick call. Charlotte, North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. My question is for the doctor.


CALLER: I would like to know if children of Alzheimer's victims are predisposed to getting the disease.

PETERSEN: That's a good question and it comes up frequently. In general, if a person has the late onset features of Alzheimer's disease, meaning they get it at age 60, 65, and later in life, children of that person may have an increased risk at perhaps three- or four-fold over the general population. What is the risk in the general population? Maybe 5 to 10 percent.

So there is an increased risk, but it's not at all a foregone conclusion that the children are going to get the disease.

KING: All right, quickly, as we go around, Willard, with public awareness now, and focusing more attention and pharmaceutical companies, do you expect to see a vaccine someday?

SCOTT: I do, Larry. And I say, I don't worry about the Y2K bug. I don't even understand that thing. What I say is, God bless the new millennium. And I hope the doctor agrees, in the next 10, 12 years, I think we'll see an end to Alzheimer's, we'll see a cure to AIDS and I think we will find the research that breaks through in cancer, and I really believe that with all of my heart.

KING: Are you saying that as you or the optimistic Willard we all know and love?

SCOTT: I pray to God.

KING: OK, it's always going to be sunny tomorrow.

SCOTT: You got it.

KING: Are you as optimistic, Angie?

DICKINSON: I'm optimistic and I'm hopeful, because it's a disease we don't know what causes it, and anyone of us can get it. And we're sitting there laughing, maybe making jokes about it. It's got to find a way to be helped. I'm optimistic.

KING: Are you, Shelley?

FABARES: I'm totally optimistic and very determined. There absolutely will be an answer to Alzheimer's. We will have it.

KING: Linda, do you make it unanimous?

DANO: Yes, I do. I'm very optimistic. These new findings are very exciting and a gift from God. So, yes, I'm very optimistic.

KING: Doctor, would you use the term "very?"

PETERSEN: I think so. I think cautiously optimistic at this point in time, but these are very exciting results.

KING: The biggest problem in finding the cure is what? I mean, cancer specialists have told me the biggest problem is that it's so varied, there isn't going to be a one-day cancer cure; there are so many types of cancers. What's the biggest problem that the researcher faces here?

PETERSEN: There still is a debate in the field as to what's the primary target of the disease -- that is, while the research we've talked about earlier in the program focuses on the amyloid plaque, there's another element of the disease called the neurofibulary tangle, that also is very important in the development of the symptoms of the disease.

So I think that the primary target has to be further defined.

KING: But you are, you would say, cautiously optimistic?

PETERSEN: Absolutely. I think this is -- we could be on the era of a major breakthrough in this disease, but time will tell.


KING: While a cure for Alzheimer's is probably still years away, there's some hopeful news on the research front. Following successful tests on animals, scientists are about to begin a human immunization trial. They hope these tests will lead to treatment of Alzheimer's and eventually help them prevent the disease.

All together, the victims of Alzheimer's had no greater champion than Maureen Reagan, and we will miss her. And we wish her family well during this sad time.

We leave with scenes from her memorial service earlier today. Good night.


DAVID HYDE PIERCE, ACTOR: Maureen took care of people, took in the sense of taking charge, taking control, taking the reins, and when she was given lemons in life, she did not make lemonade -- she took the lemons and threw them back, and said, oh no, you don't.


R. REAGAN: Of course, for Nancy and me, Maureen is someone we love dearly and yet someone whom we also recognize as the extraordinary individual that she is.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: As had been commented by many people in the day since Maureen died, in the last years of her life she often put her obligations to the Alzheimer's Association and to her father before her own care.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to tell you, thank you. Thank you for (UNINTELLIGIBLE), thank you for always watching over me when I was younger. Thank you. And I love you.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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