Ron Reagan, the youngest son of President Ronald Reagan, is set to claim that his father likely had Alzheimer’s during his second term in office. This claim is hotly disputed by historians, journalists, and doctors.
The book “My Father at 100: A Memoir” is being published to coincide with the Reagan centennial. According to Paul Bedard, writing for US News, the book makes a number of questionable claims.
“Let’s start with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It was announced in 1994. While it prompted some to suggest they knew Reagan had the disease as president, his four White House doctors said they saw no evidence of it. But Ron, who became a liberal and atheist, disappointing his dad, suggests he saw hints of confusion and ‘an out-of-touch president’ during the 1984 campaign and again in 1986, when his father couldn’t recall the names of California canyons he was flying over. Arguing his case in the book, Ron adds that doctors today know that the disease can be in evidence before being recognized. ‘The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s while in office more or less answers itself,’ he writes.”
Ron Reagan seems to be just a little bit confused about the normal onset of forgetfulness that comes with advanced age, which in no way suggests a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Indeed, as the New York Times reported three years after Reagan was diagnosed with the disease, people with actual medical degrees, including specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s, concluded that there was no evidence that President Reagan had the illness while in the White House.
Ron also describes a brain surgery that he says occurred in San Diego in 1989 for which no one can find any evidence. He also claims that a visit to the Mayo Clinic in 1990 “confirmed earlier suspicions of Alzheimer’s; apparently also with no evidence.”
Craig Shirley, a Reagan historian who has written two books about the President, also disputes the allegations of Alzheimer’s while in office. According to the Washington Examiner, Shirley said:
“Biographers of President Reagan and his presidency are legion and while some may dispute his policies or decisions, not one credible individual has ever brought up anything or suggested anything other than a physically and mentally vigorous man.
“The body of evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of President Reagan. From doctors to aides to hundreds of others who were in close contact with Ronald Reagan day-by-day during his presidency, there was never any report or suggestion or hint or accusation or rumor of Alzheimer’s.”
So why would Ron Reagan publish such allegations without evidence to back them up, with virtually every other Reagan friend and acquaintance in dispute of them? The best explanation seems to be that of a classic case of an inadequate son chaffing in the shadow of his much greater father. Ron’s career has not featured any achievements of note, certainly not on the order of bringing down the Soviet Union. It is a sad spectacle, it would seem, of a man who strives not to emulate his much greater father by achieving his own greatness, but rather attempting some kind of twisted revenge by trying to make President Reagan, the true greatest president of the last century, just a little bit smaller. It is an unhappy way to kick off the 100th year of Reagan’s birthday.
Sources: Reagan Son Claims Dad Had Alzheimer’s as President, Paul Bedard, US News, January 14th, 2011
While Known for Being Forgetful, Reagan Was Mentally Sound in Office, Doctors Say, Lawrence K. Altman, New York Times, October 5th, 1997
Reagan historian Shirley disputes Reagan son’s Alzheimer’s speculation, Mark Tapscott, Washington Examiner, January 16th, 2011