- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Ronald Reagan’s death has brought tremendous attention to Alzheimer’s disease, generating an outpouring of financial and other support for those struggling with the brain-destroying condition.

“We’ve seen an increase in memorial donations [since Mr. Reagan’s death Saturday]. … It’s too early to gauge an exact dollar amount,” said Jeanne Dubow, manager of individual gifts for the Alzheimer’s Association of the National Capital Area.

An estimated 460,000 people in the District, Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs are affected by Alzheimer’s, the organization said.

“We’ve also seen increases in the number of calls received from people volunteering to help with Alzheimer’s patients and in the number of visits to our Web site (www.alz-nca.org) from people wanting to know more about the disease,” Ms. Dubow said.

The mass affection and sympathy for Mr. Reagan, who battled Alzheimer’s disease for more than 10 years, might increase public support of federal funding for biomedical research using embryonic stem cells.

In a letter released after Mr. Reagan’s death, a majority of U.S. senators, including 14 Republicans, urged President Bush to expand federal support for embryonic stem-cell research, designed to benefit patients with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s and other diseases. They asked Mr. Bush to ease the restrictions he imposed on such research three years ago.

Kathryn Kane, a senior vice president with the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, said Mr. Reagan’s death “has had a major impact on public awareness” of Alzheimer’s, and she hopes this translates into increased contributions. Donations may be made by calling 800/272-3900.

Ms. Kane hailed the “enormous contribution” Mr. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, made to the Alzheimer’s cause, dating back to the letter he wrote to the public in November 1994 in which he revealed his condition.

Before then, she said, many people were afraid to talk about the disease because of a “stigma”; some thought it was a mental illness. Ms. Kane said Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that leads to complete loss of mental function and ultimately death.

“The Reagans’ willingness to give up their privacy and come out of the closet made it safe to talk about Alzheimer’s and for people to acknowledge they were dealing with it,” Ms. Kane said.

Ms. Dubow said Mr. Reagan will be remembered as “a true leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Federal health officials call Alzheimer’s an epidemic among the U.S. senior population. Although cases of Alzheimer’s among younger adults often are genetic, old age is the main risk factor.

An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that figure could climb to 16 million by 2050 if a treatment is not found.

But Niles Frantz, an associate director of the Alzheimer’s Association, sees a reason for hope, given that “many of the secrets of Alzheimer’s have been uncovered,” most of them in the past 15 years of research.

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