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Dear Abby, Jeanne Phillips, Discusses Her Mother's Alzheimer's

Aired September 20, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: exclusive, Jeanne Phillips. You know her better as the current "Dear Abby." We'll talk for the first time anywhere about her mother's recently announced battle with Alzheimer's. How is the original "Dear Abby" doing?"
Jeanne Phillips for the hour, and of course, your phone calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

By now, we all know Jeanne Phillips, the syndicated advice columnist. "Dear Abby." Her mother is Pauline Phillips, the founder of "Dear Abby." In August, the family revealed that Pauline, the original "Dear Abby," there she is on the left, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and this is the first time that Jeanne has talked about her mother's illness. Her aunt, who was, of course, Ann Landers, passed away in June.

How did you -- how was this learned, Jeanne?


KING: That your mother had Alzheimer's. How was it diagnosed?

PHILLIPS: It was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic.

KING: What, had things been happening?

PHILLIPS: Things had been happening for a long time, but Alzheimer's is a very subtle disease that creeps up on you. And the course of my mom's disease has been very slow. So it took a long time before anybody realized that there was something that was seriously wrong and needed to be looked at.

KING: What was one of the first things you noticed? Because this can help a lot of people, as in the family -- as someone once said, Alzheimer's is not if you forget where you put the keys, is if you forget what the key is for.

PHILLIPS: Well, first of all, she was forgetting appointments, but people do forget appointments. But it became kind of consistent. And her office was always kind of disorganized, but she used to be able to figure where, you know -- she knew her way around that disorganization. And it became difficult for her to do that. And she'd begin to, like, enter checks in her checkbook. And so I took it over. I was doing it for a very long time.

KING: How old is mom?

PHILLIPS: Mother is 84.

KING: So the general tendency is to say, 84, it's a little forgetfulness, normally this happens with age, right?

PHILLIPS: Doesn't necessarily happen with age, though. Yes, there is a tendency, and for years, they used to say, well, you know, granny is getting senile. But old age doesn't always mean that you're going to get dementia.

Let me think. What are the figures on this? Ten percent of people over 65 have dementia, or Alzheimer's, and by the time they reach 85, the figure is up to like 50 percent. But then you see somebody like Art Linkletter...

KING: Who was here recently with me.

PHILLIPS: ... who is 92 years old, I think, and he's just clear as a bell, and fast.

KING: Correct.


KING: So it's a puzzlement.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it's a puzzlement.

KING: So what do they do at Mayo?

PHILLIPS: What did they do at Mayo? They interviewed her, and they did an X-ray of her head. That's as much as I know. Doctor Petersen is just wonderful.

KING: At Mayo?

PHILLIPS: Ron Petersen. He's also Ronald Reagan's doctor. And he would, you know, he would just come and sort of talk to her and try to see where she was in this process, because it really is a process.

KING: Why did the family announce it?

PHILLIPS: The family announced it because -- first of all, you know, there's always the desire to circle the wagons, OK? And my father did not want my mother to hear that word for fear that she'd become frightened. And then finally, we heard from a tabloid asking -- wrote a letter to the syndicate asking for confirmation or denial.

KING: How did they get it? Some tipster from Mayo?

PHILLIPS: I don't know. I don't know.

KING: Could be anywhere.

PHILLIPS: It could be anywhere. I don't know.

KING: So they were going to print it? PHILLIPS: They were going to print it. And with that about to happen, we certainly -- we didn't want it to happen that way.

KING: So how is mom handling it? She's still -- her brain is active, right? I mean...


KING: ... we'll talk about that. But I mean, she knows she has Alzheimer's?

PHILLIPS: Well, she doesn't -- no one's ever used the word.

KING: She doesn't what?

PHILLIPS: She doesn't really know that it's Alzheimer's, exactly. My mother about maybe seven or eight years ago and I were just talking, and she kind of laughed to me, and she said, "you know, your mother's getting soft in the head." And I looked at her and I said, "mommy, you're the greatest intellect it will probably be my privilege to ever know. And there's nothing wrong with that. You're just having problems with your memory." And the subject dropped. And that was the end of it.

KING: But she must know now that she has it. It's been everywhere, announced. What if she's watching now?

PHILLIPS: If she's watching now, mommy, I love you. But somehow, I don't think that she is. And ...

KING: Are you keeping it from her?

PHILLIPS: I'm not keeping it from her, but my father was very concerned about how she would react and was afraid that she'd go into a mammoth depression and didn't want her told.

KING: But how do you keep it from her if you make the public announcement that she has it?

PHILLIPS: Well, that's a good question. Her -- she's far enough along in this disease that even if she knew, she wouldn't remember it for long.

KING: You mean if you told her at 6:00, she might at 6:20 not remember that she was told she has Alzheimer's?

PHILLIPS: That's right.

KING: So she's certainly farther advanced than Charlton Heston, who can do a tape for a news conference and explain that he has it?

PHILLIPS: My hat is off to him, because I think that he did a very courageous thing.

KING: Is she being treated medically?


KING: There are improved medicines, right, that keep it longer lasting?

PHILLIPS: She's under Dr. Petersen's care and she's taking Aricept, which does slow the progress of the disease, and her Alzheimer's has been a very slow onset.

KING: You said that.


KING: Getting worse, though, right? Doesn't get better?

PHILLIPS: No, but yes, it does get worse. But the hope is that you can make it worse at a slower rate. And that's what they're working on, I believe, right now, the research.

KING: What's her life like? Does she go out?

PHILLIPS: Yes. She goes out with my dad. She'll go out for meals and have a good time. You know, if she were here with you now, she'd be able to respond appropriately to you as long as it was something that was in the present. She's got a good sense of humor. She loves to laugh. And we do.

KING: So she can watch a movie...


KING: ... laugh at the movie...


KING: And in a half hour, not remember the movie she saw?

PHILLIPS: You mean just like me?

KING: There are funny aspects to it.

PHILLIPS: There are forgettable movies.

KING: But how has it been for the caregivers, for you and your father? That's tough.

PHILLIPS: It's very tough, because one change that's happened with my mother that -- one change that has happened with my mother is she went from being extremely independent and really not wanting people around her that much because she wanted to have the time to create and concentrate, she's gone to really needing people around her. She finds the presence reassuring, and so she spends a great deal of time with my dad.

KING: She's rarely left alone.

PHILLIPS: No, she's not left alone ever at all. KING: Ever at all?

PHILLIPS: Not at all.

KING: So maybe she goes to take a nap.

PHILLIPS: Oh, fine, so she goes to take a nap.

KING: But I mean, she's never alone in the living room.

PHILLIPS: No, she's really not alone in the house. She's not alone in their condominium.

KING: So therefore, you'd never let her out of the house alone.

PHILLIPS: Well, you know what? My mother, for a long time, has really felt more secure in familiar surroundings, so it's not a matter of letting her out of the house alone. I think her preference is probably to be there. I know it is, as a matter of fact.

KING: You know, I'll ask you, Jeanne, how are you going to deal with this as it goes on?

Jeanne Phillips is our guest. Her mother, you know her as the original "Dear Abby," a wonderful lady. I've interviewed her a few times, Pauline Phillips. And we'll take your calls as well. We'll talk about other things as well too, with "Dear Abby," Jeanne Phillips. Don't go away.


KING: Dear Abby is our guest, Jeanne Phillips.

And before we continue the questions, she wanted to say something.

PHILLIPS: Yes, there is something I'd like to make clear, and that is that it's very interesting -- the brain is very interesting, and how the various parts of the brain regulate what we can do. And although my mother became less and less creative throughout the process, well beyond the point when she wasn't creating anymore, she was still a very astute editor. And she would edit the copy that I prepared.

KING: She couldn't write well anymore, but could read well.

PHILLIPS: She could read and critique well.

KING: How do you explain that?

PHILLIPS: I don't know. I'm telling you, the only thing I can come up with is that it's different parts of the brain controlling different functions, and they don't all go at the same time.

KING: Is she beginning not to recognize people she knows?

PHILLIPS: Some, yes.

KING: A friend who she's known a long time comes over and she doesn't know who it is.

PHILLIPS: But then, of course, if they're savvy, they will tell her, hi, I'm so-and-so, or a third person will say, of course you remember -- just like with a politician.

KING: Yes, I know.

Are there -- is she in a certain stage? Are there five stages? Is she in stage two?

PHILLIPS: I can't answer that because I don't know.

I'll tell you something; you know how I'm dealing with this?

KING: How?

PHILLIPS: I'm taking it a day at a time. And I'm not going by any books. So I really can't answer that.

KING: What do the doctors say?

PHILLIPS: The doctors haven't talked to me about it at any great length.

KING: As you look back, can you now say...

PHILLIPS: Dr. Peterson (ph) says she's doing great, quote- unquote.

KING: As you look back, can you now say, I should have noticed this?

PHILLIPS: Oh, yes.

KING: There were things...

PHILLIPS: I'm kicking myself. I'm going, why didn't I notice this? Why weren't my alarm bells on with that?

And I'm going because, you know, you try to be helpful to somebody that you love, and that you don't really pick up on it until it's cumulative and then you realize oh my God.

But that's only something you can realize in retrospect. It's not something that you realize while you're going through it.

KING: She knows her sister died?


KING: How did she deal with that?

PHILLIPS: She was very upset. She was... KING: Did she then forget it?

PHILLIPS: Yes, she did. But don't think she wasn't affected, because she was very strongly affected.

But within -- you know, by the next morning, it wasn't foremost in her mind.

She lives in the immediate. She lives in the immediate. And if you remind her, she'll be upset. So I'm not going to remind her. It's the last thing I'm going to talk about with her.

KING: Is she in good health otherwise?

PHILLIPS: Yes, she's in terrific health. She looks beautiful. She's physically fine.

KING: How is your dad dealing with it?

PHILLIPS: He is my hero. He is one heck of a strong guy.

KING: Because it's very hard on the spouse.


KING: I know what Nancy Reagan goes through, and it's awfully tough. And of course, he's in much later stages than your mom.

But he's also healthy of body.

PHILLIPS: I don't -- I really don't know, because everything I hear about President Reagan, of course, is second-hand or hearsay or whatever. I don't know from that. I can tell you that my dad and my mother still have a good time together. But it cannot be easy for my dad.

KING: So are you making certain kinds of plans?


KING: None?

PHILLIPS: None that have been discussed with me.

KING: Are you ever thinking of hospitalization? There are special hospitals...


KING: ... that just deal with Alzheimer's patients.

PHILLIPS: I haven't discussed it with my dad. He hasn't talked to me about that. I know they have plenty of help right now with her, but I don't know what eventually is going to happen.

KING: There are indications it's hereditary. Are you worried? PHILLIPS: Of course I'm worried. But the fact that I could tell you that by the end of this year another 375,000 people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, that they need another -- the Alzheimer's Association would like to get another $400 million in funding to fight it. That baby boomers are at risk of getting this, including me.

And so it's better to get it funded now. In fact, that I can remember these figures is somewhat reassuring to me that I don't have it right now.

KING: The late Maureen Reagan got very involved in the Alzheimer's Association.


KING: Nancy Reagan, of course, is.

PHILLIPS: God bless her.

KING: Are you getting involved?

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. I'll do whatever they want me to do, whether it's become a spokesperson, whether it's testify in front of Congress, I'll do anything they want me to do. I'm at their disposal.

KING: Have you contacted Mrs. Reagan?

PHILLIPS: No. I met her once, but I wouldn't want to impose on her. I think she's got enough without having to, you know, to deal with me.

KING: Some people, it's called the long goodbye.


KING: The awfulness of it is it's not like any other disease. Eventually, you know -- I mean, you know your mother's not going to recognize you. That's the...

PHILLIPS: I dread it. I dread it.

Yes, I know that. And as far as I -- it's like, keep it far away from us. I don't want to even -- I can't comprehend it. I don't want to dwell on it.

KING: I had a friend whose mother had it -- I have a friend, close friend, whose mother had it. She sort of recognized him at the end, but didn't recognize his wife of 45 years.

PHILLIPS: You think there's a reason?

KING: There are -- you have to look at humor a lot.

PHILLIPS: Oh, it's the only thing will save you.

KING: If you didn't, you'd go crazy. PHILLIPS: You know something, if there's anything to be said that's good about this disease, it's that it's hard on the people around the person who has it. It's not really that -- it sounds strange to say it, but the person who has it doesn't really realize how impacted they've become. And maybe that's the blessing.

KING: They only thing is, they do must have fear. I mean, we can't imagine, of seeing people all the time they don't know.

PHILLIPS: I don't know. I don't know.

KING: I mean, their world, you would think, is full of strangers.

PHILLIPS: Depends on how you -- this is just from here, I guess -- it depends on how you view strangers. I know my mother has always looked at strangers as friends.

KING: So she would be warm and welcome, and not be fearful of the fact that she doesn't know this person who is putting his arms around her and saying hello.

PHILLIPS: She'd probably hug back.

KING: That's a good sign, then.

PHILLIPS: I think it is.

KING: Our guest is Jeanne Phillips, talking for the first time publicly about her mother's Alzheimer's. She is Dear Abby.

We're going to discuss some other things and taking a lot of your calls as well.

We'll be right back.



CALLER: ... with your mom and Ann Landers being twin sisters, do you know, by any chance if she had any symptoms of Alzheimer's as well?

KING: Good question.

PHILLIPS: I saw my aunt last October, and she seemed clear as a bell.

KING: You never noticed anything in Ann Landers that would tell you?


KING: Alzheimer's. How about, did your mother have other sisters? PHILLIPS: Yes. She has -- she had two other sisters. Her oldest sister is Helen Rodky (ph). She's 90 or 91 now. And she is fine. She's clear as a bell. The second sister, Dorothy (ph), passed away in 1989.

KING: And she was OK too in that regard?

PHILLIPS: Yes, in that regard, she was fine.

KING: Dallas, hello.

CALLER: Yes, ma'am. I wanted to tell you my mother is in the late stages of the disease, and she no longer recognizes me or the members of my family. And it's a very, very difficult journey. I wanted to ask you -- I know that I could go tomorrow and find out if I have the gene that will determine if I have Alzheimer's disease or not. Do you feel like you would want to know? I mean, are you willing to go and take that test, or do you advise maybe just to let life go on and...

KING: Let me ask the caller something first. You will not take the test?

CALLER: I haven't really made up my mind yet, Larry. I guess that's why I kind of wondered what Ms. Phillips felt about it.

KING: Will you take the test?

PHILLIPS: I haven't done it yet. Please, I hope that whoever is watching this, I don't want anybody to think that I and my family are poster children for this. Because it's an intensely personal thing. It's going to impact on a lot of people.

I have not taken the test yet. Am I likely to? If I start having symptoms, I probably will.

KING: Caller, do you think there's an advantage in knowing?

CALLER: I guess that's the question I have. My mother and my grandmother both had the disease, so I suppose I'm very predisposed toward it. But is it going to be beneficial to me? Maybe health- wise, I could do some things that could prevent it.

PHILLIPS: I don't know whether it can -- I don't think at this point that it can be prevented. Again, I'm not an expert. But what it can do, what early medication can do, from what I understand, is it can slow the symptoms. So it might be advantageous for you.

KING: Thank you, ma'am. What would be the disadvantage?

PHILLIPS: The disadvantage would be that perhaps the disease would progress more rapidly.

KING: By knowing it?

PHILLIPS: No, by not knowing it. By knowing that you have a genetic predisposition for it. This woman already thinks that she does.

To me, I probably -- in my life, I probably would wait to be tested. But that's just -- that's just me. I guess I'm the biggest coward in the whole world.

KING: But you're also an advice giver.

PHILLIPS: Well, so what?

KING: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Hello? Are you there? We lost Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

What fear do you have of knowing?

PHILLIPS: What is my fear of knowing? I can't answer that. I'd have to think about it. I guess it's the fear of knowing that you have something you can't get out of.

KING: Trapped?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, that's about it. That's about it. That's the fear right there.

KING: In another area, and we'll get back to calls momentarily. I'm sorry about that Edmonton call. I don't know what happened. But we'll take a lot of calls for Jeanne Phillips.

Child safety, with all that's gone on this summer, are you -- what do you make of this?

PHILLIPS: You know what? I think everybody knows they have to be vigilant with their children. I don't have anything profound to say on that subject. We all know that we have to watch the children. The question is when does it become absolute paranoia?

KING: And it could.

PHILLIPS: And it could.

KING: Rockville, Indiana, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello?



CALLER: Hi. My mother had Alzheimer's, and I lost her back in '96.


CALLER: And I was wondering, we struggled for so long about what to do. Would you consider putting your mother in like a nursing home or private home for care later? PHILLIPS: If it became necessary, and one's loved one needed that specialized care and the family wasn't able to see that it was done, I think that that's probably the most compassionate solution, even though it's a terrible tug.

KING: What did you do, caller?

CALLER: We ended up putting her in a nursing home, and it tore our hearts out.

PHILLIPS: Tell me something. How did it impact her?

CALLER: She withdrew, because -- my cousin is a research doctor, and he told us to keep her mind active, to argue with her and things, which we did. And then after we put her in the nursing home, she went downhill. But on the day that she passed away, I went and said good- bye to her, and she recognized me and like let out a sigh. And I knew that she knew that I was there saying goodbye to her. So they know. Even though they don't say it, they know what's going on. They know who's there.

PHILLIPS: That's wonderful to hear.

KING: It's awful tough on the caregiver.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it is.

KING: You know, I would imagine there couldn't be a tougher thing than to not be loved. Caregiver eventually, when they don't recognize you, you're giving love and getting nothing back. What an existence that must be.

PHILLIPS: I don't know. I think, what do they say, that marriage is for better or for worse. And maybe that has something to do with it. And certainly, when you love people you can keep on giving to them beyond the point where they're able to give to you.

KING: Yeah, but advice you would give to someone, you're home every day, you come home, and someone you love and take care of gives you nothing back.

PHILLIPS: You know what? You know what? The Alzheimer's Association has groups not just all over the country, but all over the world at this point. There are caregivers support groups. People cannot just come home and give and give and give and give without burning out. There has to be some respite, and people have to avail themselves of this. And there's no guilt involved in living your life.

One of the first things that the doctor told me was, you know, you're going to have to live your own life. And people should remember that. You can be as devoted and loving a spouse or a caregiver or child, but you also have to remember that you have to program time for yourself in there, because it will renew you. Because it is a long haul, and people need that. KING: We'll take a break and come back with more calls for Jeanne Phillips. Monday night, Christopher Reeve, and his wife Dana. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back with Jeanne Phillips. Before we get back to the calls, tell me about OperationDearAbby.

PHILLIPS: OperationDearAbby...

KING: ... .net.

PHILLIPS: .net, OK. OperationDearAbby was a card and letter writing campaign that was instituted every Christmas for many, many, many years. So people could send encouragement to the troops who were stationed far away at holiday time.

Well, after the anthrax scare last year, the Department of Defense put OperationDearAbby online and it became And it's a year-round program where people can send messages of encouragement to people who are stationed far away from home in the service. And it's wonderful.

Now, on September 5, I published a letter written by Carmella Lespata (ph), who is the director of the White House committee -- chairman of the White House Committee on Remembrance, and she was talking about ways that people could do something to remember the fallen who were victims of terror attacks on September 11 of last year. And she recommended that people gather in small groups and ring a bell three times, once for each of the sites of the attacks, which I thought was very sweet.

And my answer to her, I said to her I thought another -- that my sympathies, of course, go to the survivors of this tragedy. But that another -- we should not forget, also, that there are people who are laying their lives on the line for us every day, making sure that we're still free, and that these people would love to have a message of encouragement, because these messages are really a tremendous morale booster for people who are far away. So to go to and leave a message.

Well, people took it to the great. People took it to their bosoms, and it crashed the Department of Defense computer. That, the response -- people are wonderful. They really -- you know, it empowers people. People want to do something to help. They really do.

KING: Easton, Maryland, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I just was watching your show, and my husband has Alzheimer's and he is only 59. And he is in a home, and I'm wondering if you ever put your mother in a home, God forbid, that you will feel the guilt that I feel if I don't go see him every day.

PHILLIPS: Well, there are no plans right now to put momma anywhere other than where she is right now.

KING: May I ask the caller, is this a home that specializes in Alzheimer's patients?

CALLER: Yes, it's a great home.

KING: So that everyone there is an Alzheimer patient.


KING: And these are very skilled people that take care of them.

CALLER: Very much so.

KING: Because Jeanne was telling me, there is skilled people that are trained in this, right? Alzheimer's Foundation trains people.

PHILLIPS: Yes, they do. They train caregivers.

KING: The association.

PHILLIPS: Yes, you can -- they have classes for care-givers.

KING: What's your guilt, ma'am?

CALLER: By not seeing him all the time. Not...

KING: Does he recognize you when you go there?

CALLER: No, not really. Not really at all. But I was just wondering, I don't -- I just was wondering, if she would -- if she doesn't...

KING: All right, let's say she's a letter writer, this caller. I have guilt over my husband. He has Alzheimer's, he doesn't recognize me. I put him in a home.

PHILLIPS: I would repeat to this lady what was said to me by Dr. Petersen, and that is that you have to continue to live your own life. You have to be able to take joy in it where you can find it. Please don't feel guilty for doing that. Do what you can do, but please don't beat yourself up, because you can't do it all.

KING: That's sound advice, ma'am.

Thank you.

Warren, Arkansas, hello.



CALLER: I was going to ask, did it -- hello?

KING: Yes, turn your TV down, because you'll get a delay.

CALLER: OK. I've got it down.

KING: OK, go ahead.

CALLER: OK. I wanted to ask, when your mother lost her sister, did it seem to make her condition worse?


CALLER: Well, my mother has lost her daughter, and I have noticed that in my mother.


KING: Your sister died?

CALLER: Yes, in June, and my mother seems to be getting worse.

PHILLIPS: OK. Listen to me. I'm sure her doctor is aware of what's going on, right?


PHILLIPS: What does your doctor say?

CALLER: Well, it may bring it on. It's possible it could.

PHILLIPS: Listen...

CALLER: You know, make her condition worse.

PHILLIPS: I'm not -- since I'm not a medical practitioner, here's what I'd tell you as a friend, OK? If there's a component of depression and if there are medications that can be given to her that will help to alleviate the depression, and I think you should talk about this, this specific thing to your mom's doctor, because I think there may be help.

CALLER: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: You're welcome. I hope it helps.

KING: Thank you. Winnipeg, Manitoba, hello.

CALLER: Yes. I'm calling in reference to -- we were talking about keeping children safe.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: And I have a son, he's a single daddy, and he has a little boy, 6 years old, and they're very -- they're close, but my son is at the point where he's so afraid to let him sleep in his own bedroom that sometimes the little one will sleep with him, because he's so afraid someone might break in and take him away. It's really kind of sad, and I'm wondering, it's like -- is it too much to be reacting over this, like the little guy's 6 years old, and I guess he's become -- you get paranoid, you get a little paranoid about leaving your child alone in the bedroom.

PHILLIPS: A lot of parents are paranoid, but they're not that paranoid. And I think that if this persists with your son, that your son needs somebody that he can talk to try to alleviate his fears, because I think he's carrying it too far. And this will come home to roost with your son. Because if the child is used to sleeping with him, when he comes to a point where he might like to sleep with someone else, the child is going to feel rejected so I think he'd better deal with it now.

KING: Yeah, very good idea. Sound advice. You ought to take this advice thing up. You brought some letters with you?

PHILLIPS: Oh, I brought some.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We'll keep taking calls, but I understand you have some funny letters.

PHILLIPS: I do have some fun stuff.

KING: People who write to Dear Abby, right?

PHILLIPS: Right. People who write to Dear Abby don't always have the most earthshaking problems in the world.

KING: For example?

PHILLIPS: Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I think I'll give it to you. Here's one. It hasn't been printed yet, but it's going to be. This was from somebody who got...

KING: This one right here?

PHILLIPS: Yes. It has to do with a memo to -- from a bride to her attendants.

KING: I'm not going to have time to read the whole memo, though.

PHILLIPS: Read a couple of them. You'll love it.

KING: "Dear Abby, I received the enclosed memo from a friend. When I read it, I was floored. Once you'll read it, I'm sure you'll understand why. What's your take on this? Memo to my attendants: Hey, girls, mom has your dreams for the dresses. She'll bring them to the shower next weekend. You can pick them up there."

I don't understand this.

PHILLIPS: OK, I'm sorry. Let me show you some of the fun things. The one that really struck me as funniest was where she said that she didn't want her bridesmaids to have anything alcoholic to drink, didn't want anyone to drink any alcohol for a week before the wedding because she didn't want them to be bloated.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Jeanne Phillips, more of your phone calls.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Dear Abby.

By the way, there's always strange stories in Hollywood. And this is the bomb of the year. Certainly, the surprise hit movie of the year has been "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which was made for about $5 million and is now over $110 million; is projected to do over $200 million worldwide. It will be the biggest profit-making movie -- that's for expenditure into money that you -- expenditure out to money you take in in 10 years.

And here's a scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Fatoula, don't let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Nick, that is so beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, that Dear Abby, she really knows what she's talking about.


KING: Did you write that?

PHILLIPS: You know something? I don't know. I've racked my brain. I went to see that movie the weekend that it came out.

KING: Did you know you'd be mentioned?

PHILLIPS: I did not know. And I'm sitting in the theater, I almost fell off my chair.

And I left and I thought, that's really beautiful, but did I say it?

KING: Did you like the movie?

PHILLIPS: I loved the movie. I thought it was just delightful. I've seen it a couple of times. It's an upper, and sometimes you just need an upper. I need an upper.

KING: There are all kinds of uppers.

PHILLIPS: Yes, but I mean the other kind.

PHILLIPS: Waterloo, Iowa, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: My question for Miss Phillips -- first I just want to say thank you for sharing this personal story. I used to take care of people with Alzheimer's, and I know how difficult it is.

But my question for you, actually, is what advice or what words would you say to someone who actually just learned that a parent or loved one has just been diagnosed with this disease?

KING: You've had to deal with it. What would you say to people?

PHILLIPS: I would say that you're going to need patience and you're going to need fortitude. That you shouldn't forget, along the course of this disease, that it's not a bad thing to take time for yourself. As a matter of fact, it's probably one of the most important things that you can do.

And I would advise people to contact the Alzheimer's Association to learn what they can about this disease and to get into a support group, because...

KING: Is that what you did?


KING: You contacted them?

PHILLIPS: Yes. I've been in touch with the Alzheimer's Association for a long time.

KING: Before this?

PHILLIPS: It's interesting, one of the ironies of this disease is that it was my mother who put the Alzheimer's Association on the map in 1980, when they were a fledgling organization, by printing their 10 questions, you know, is it Alzheimer's?

I think you quoted one of them, which was, you know, the keys.

I would definitely involve people with the Alzheimer's Association as soon as possible.

KING: Did you father take that advice?


KING: To Naples, Florida. Hello.

CALLER: Yes. I have been a care-giver, Jeanne. And my question is, as you are care-giving, who is care-giving to you and your dad?

PHILLIPS: We have -- we are blessed in that we have wonderful friends, people we can say anything to at any time and who care about us. And as far as I'm concerned, it's my friends who have supported me, and my husband. But as for my father, I can't answer. I don't really know who -- other than his friends and my brother and his kids, I don't know the answer to that.

KING: Because you need that.

PHILLIPS: I know I need it, yes. And I know he does too.

KING: In August, after the Alzheimer's announcement, there was a commentary in "USA Today" by Jill Nelson which concluded: "Even when I ignore Dear Abby and Ann Landers, they just keep on coming like good friends who won't take no for an answer. At a time when seismic shifts in the political and economic landscape are everyday occurrences, the spirit of these twin sisters with their practical, witty and motherly advice is more important and more comforting than ever."

We'll be right back with our remaining moments with Dear Abby right after this.


KING: We're back with Jeanne Phillips. "Dear Abby," for the first time tonight, publicly discussing her mother's Alzheimer's.

University Park, Florida. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. I am so touched to connect with the two of you on a subject that's so dear to my heart. My mother died in '99 of Alzheimer's, and that inspired and motivated me to write a book for caregivers. I'm interested in how you have been motivated and inspired as a result of your mother's illness.

KING: By the way, you said she died of it. That's actually was the cause of death?

CALLER: It was further complicated by a fall that fractured her hip. And within several months, she was gone.

PHILLIPS: Sorry. I'm sorry.

KING: How do you want to answer the question?

PHILLIPS: How have I been inspired? Well, I have offered...

KING: You're getting more active.

PHILLIPS: Oh, absolutely. I've offered my services to the Alzheimer's Association to help in any way that I can, from speaking to groups to raise money, because a lot of money is needed for research, to testifying before Congress if they'd like me to.

KING: You know, there are a lot in the medical fraternity predicting that it will be cured.

PHILLIPS: Here's hoping. KING: East Meredith, New York. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. My question is this: What is the treatment your mother is undergoing for Alzheimer's? I was curious as I took care of my mother for 12 years with Alzheimer's, and three months after she passed away, my husband, who was 53 at the time, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He's now 59 and he's been on Aricept, and they feel that that has slowed down the deadly progression of this disease.

PHILLIPS: My mom has been on Aricept too.

KING: How are you spelling this?

PHILLIPS: I think it's A-R-R-A-C-E-P-T, I think.

KING: Is that right, ma'am?


PHILLIPS: I misspelled it.

KING: Aricept. And that seems to slow down the progress?

CALLER: Yes. He's been tested every six months and because of the -- because of the Aricept, they feel it's slowed down, and he's still capable of being home alone, but with a very strict regimen. That's one of the later things I've learned over taking care of people with Alzheimer's for 20 years, you have to have a very simplified life, simplify things around them, and to keep them very structured.

PHILLIPS: A routine.



KING: Ma'am, do they forget that they've eaten?

CALLER: Yes, they can -- I had my husband visiting with family today, and he remembered things from 20 years ago, and then five minutes afterward, he forgot he took his pills. That's the problem. The past becomes very current to them.

PHILLIPS: Right. They live in the moment, kind of.

CALLER: Yes. The -- 10 seconds, and a memory is gone.

KING: Boy, oh, boy.

PHILLIPS: It can happen.

KING: What a confounding disease. Yet he can remember things years ago at times?

CALLER: Yes, he can remember the past very easily. But it's very different when it's a mother and when it's a husband. It's a whole different way that you need to treat them.

KING: How do you mean?

PHILLIPS: Oh, I'm sure.

CALLER: Well, because a mother becomes a child, in a way. And since my husband was so young going into the disease, it was hard. He didn't want to be treated as a child. It was very easy for my mother to give up her independence, because she was 75 at the time.

KING: And you said your mother had to give up her independence, right?


KING: This is -- thank you, ma'am. This is no walk in the park, boy.

PHILLIPS: No, it's not. But it's not that she had to give up her independence; it was like it gradually disappeared and she became more dependent.

KING: What worries you the most?

PHILLIPS: That she'll become frightened. That worries me.

KING: She's not now frightened?

PHILLIPS: No, she's not.

KING: Because that's one of the points of progression, right?

PHILLIPS: I don't know the answer to that. But you asked me what my fear is. And that's my fear, that she'll become frightened.

KING: How has this affected you? I mean, in ways for example...

PHILLIPS: Has it -- you mean has it affected you?

KING: Yeah, has it affected you in the way you treat advice, the way you think about living, the way you think about lots of things?

PHILLIPS: That's interesting that you put that -- that you asked me that question, because, yes. What it brings home is the fact that you have to live your life. You have to enjoy every day as it comes. And just milk it for all it's worth, because you really don't know how long you're going to have. And that goes for people suffering from any disease.

With me, I just, sometimes you asked how it has impacted on me. Well, there's been depression where it made it difficult to write. And there has been sleepless nights and anxiety attacks. But other than that, I'm OK. And you know, you get through it. You just get through it.

KING: Jeanne, we only have a little over a minute and a half left. Are you going to continue this column ad infinitum, forever?

PHILLIPS: As long as...


PHILLIPS: No, I sure don't. I do not think of retiring. I enjoy what I do.

KING: How many letters do you get?

PHILLIPS: Oh, my God, between 5,000 and 10,000 letter a week. And it's up. It's up. The mail is heavier than it's ever been.

KING: How do you pick what you print?

PHILLIPS: Gut. I just do it -- I read -- I know it when I see it.

KING: The ones you don't print, do they get responded to?

PHILLIPS: Many of them do. Anyone who sends a stamped self- addressed envelope gets a response, a personal reply, and I pick up the phone and call people all the time.

KING: We only have a minute left. What makes a good advice person?

PHILLIPS: Somebody with empathy for others, somebody who is willing to go the extra mile to be sure that the answers are as good as they can produce, consulting experts who are willing to share their expertise.

KING: Thanks for coming, Jeanne.

PHILLIPS: Listen to me. Larry, I was inundated with requests for interviews when this first broke. And I want you to know, I wanted to talk about it with somebody who was sympathetic and someone I could trust, and I didn't want to talk about it to anybody but you.

KING: Thank you, Jeanne. I'm honored. I wish your mother the best.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

KING: I know her, and she's a game gal.

PHILLIPS: She's a doll.

KING: Jeanne Phillips, you know her as "Dear Abby."

We'll take a break, and when we come back, I'll tell you about tomorrow night, Sunday night and Monday night on LARRY KING WEEKEND and LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Two repeats over the weekend. Saturday night on LARRY KING WEEKEND, the model Marla Hanson, you remember brutally beaten by her own landlord. And Sunday night, going to go to Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, and we'll be back Monday night live. Christopher Reeve will be aboard.

We turn things over now to Aaron Brown in New York, the host of "NEWSNIGHT."



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