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Celebrities with Alzheimer’s Disease

Paving the Way for Alzheimer’s Awareness

Did you know Alzheimer’s disease is the eighth leading cause of death for people over age 65? Every year, 23,000 Americans get diagnosed with this condition – a disease that has no cure and slowly leads to their brain’s demise. It’s not a pretty statistic, especially considering that the disease affects the families of those diagnosed almost as much as it affects the actual patient.

Awareness for Alzheimer’s disease is relatively new. It was not until celebrities with Alzheimer’s spoke out about it that the seriousness of it became common knowledge – and thank goodness they did. Now, the general population is much more aware of what Alzheimer’s disease is, as well as dementia (a symptom of the disease), and they are better prepared to handle the diagnosis of a loved one.

So who were these important celebrities that changed the perception of Alzheimer’s forever?

Ronald Reagan (Died in 2004 at 93 years old)

The 40th President of the United States clearly had a life that influenced many others. Besides altering the course of history during his term as President, he made it known that he was living with Alzheimer’s disease, forever changing the public’s opinion of the disease. He was not diagnosed until he was 83, and lived a full ten years afterwards, proving that the condition does not equal imminent death.

Charlton Heston (Died in 2008 at 84 years old)

Best known for his roles in Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, this Academy Award winning actor was also a devoted political activist. He was also a supporter and friend of Ronald Reagan, although he did not receive his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s until nine years after Reagan did. Following the example of his friend, Heston also spoke openly about Alzheimer’s disease and was committed to helping raise the awareness of it. He was diagnosed with the disease in 2003, and passed away from pneumonia complications five years later.

Rita Hayworth (Died in 1987 at 68 years old)

Hollywood’s leading lady of the 1940’s, known especially for her role in Gilda, had a rough road before eventually getting her diagnosis. She had symptoms for two decades, which many blamed on her drinking until she received her diagnosis in 1980. Then, her daughter, Princess Yasmin Kahn, started speaking out to the press about her mother’s condition, earning praise from President Reagan (who had yet to be diagnosed himself) for their bravery and candor. Rita Hayworth slipped into a semi-coma for three months before eventually passing away from Alzheimer’s disease at the young age of 68.

Norman Rockwell (Died in 1978 at 84 years old)

As an iconic American painter, Rockwell is most known for his work as the four-decade cover artist for The Saturday Evening Post magazine. His life with Alzheimer’s was not well-known, and not even long-lived, as he passed away from emphysema before the full effects of the condition could set in. He may not have done much to impact awareness while he was alive, but his contribution to the cause continues to this day. Rockwell’s paintings are often used in treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to evoke feelings of nostalgia in patients.