By Becca Verda
Since he left office in 1989, historians, scholars and Americans have debated the legacy left behind by Ronald Reagan. But what can’t be denied is his legacy as an advocate for the millions of Americans affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1982, Reagan joined forces with the Alzheimer’s Association to launch a campaign against Alzheimer’s, and he designated a National Alzheimer’s Disease Week. He also accelerated the spread of awareness in 1983 by signing a proclamation to dedicate November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
Reagan recognized that as Americans lived longer, the impact of this disease would grow. “The emotional, financial and social consequences of Alzheimer’s disease are so devastating that it deserves special attention,” He stated. At the time 2 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s. Today, that number has risen to 5.2 million.
Reagan brought the bipartisan fight to address Alzheimer’s to Washington before its impact on the American people and his life was fully understood. In 1994 Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and with his wife Nancy, wrote to the nation about their hope to raise awareness:
“In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures, we were able to raise public awareness…So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.”
His words touched the hearts of Americans and politicians. President Clinton asked American’s to put aside partisanship to wish Reagan well. Nancy spoke of the power of their public advocacy and the outpouring of support they received at the 1996 Republican National Convention:
“The love and affection from thousands of Americans has been and continues to be a strengthening force for Ronnie and me each and every day. We have learned, as too many other families have learned, of the terrible pain and loneliness that must be endured as each day brings another reminder of this very long goodbye.”
Ronald and Nancy Reagan brought the fight against Alzheimer’s out of the shadows and into the public’s eye. Since his death, the legacy of bipartisan support for Alzheimer’s research, treatment and support has lived on. The Federal Government has become the world’s leading funder of Alzheimer’s research and in 2012 the Obama administration presented a National Plan to End Alzheimer’s by 2025.
More people are speaking out about Alzheimer’s every day and joining the Alzheimer’s Association to make their voices heard in Washington. This year, Congress unanimously approved the bipartisan National Alzheimer’s Project Act and Alzheimer’s Accountability Act to increase research funding to $591 million annually.
Public awareness has catalyzed progress to a find a cure, but there is still a long road ahead. Researchers report that to cure Alzheimer’s by 2025, Federal funding must reach $2 billion annually.
Read the full letter from Reagan announcing his Alzheimer’s diagnosis here.
Read Nancy’s speech from the 1996 Republican National Convention here.