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A detour down memory's own memory lane

When former President Ronald Reagan died in 2004, the world was, for the most part, aware that he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years. Officially, his memory started to fail in the 1990s, long after he had left office. Unofficially -- at the time, at least -- the signs were there while he was in the White House. Some suggest that the onset of Alzheimer's dated back to his first term.

Nevertheless, at the time of his death, it was no secret that he has spent his last year's in seclusion at his California ranch in the descending haze of the long forgetting. What we did not know, though, was that one of his strongest political allies was also stricken.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was noticeably absent from Reagan's funeral. She had "given up public appearances on the advice of her doctors," as the Telegraph put it, with others reporting that it was a stroke a couple of years earlier that kept her home. But her recorded eulogy was played during the state funeral. It seemed a little odd that the eulogy had been recorded before Reagan's death, but the focus was not on Thatcher that week.

We know now, of course, that she, too, suffered from Alzheimer's. In 2008, five years before her death, her daughter wrote about Thatcher's decline in a memoir. Her condition was an "open secret," according to London papers. There were small strokes, but the connection between Alzheimer's and stroke is still a little murky -- both involve the brain, but one is an assault, the other a retreat, as a friend of ours said.

The day Thatcher died, an article in the Los Angeles Times focused on Alzheimer's. The author included some disturbing statistics: "[A]mong 70-year-olds who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, 61% are expected to die within a decade; among 70-year-olds without Alzheimer's disease, only 30% will die within a decade."

But we didn't set out to talk about Alzheimer's or dementia or Reagan or Thatcher today. We meant to talk about advance directives. We'll get to that next week.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Margaret Thatcher's dementia: cause of death or unrelated factor?" Melissa Healy, April 8, 2013 

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