09 November 2015

F%$# Me, I Agree with Bill O'Reilly

Over the weekend, George Will and Bill O'Reilley got into it over whether or not Reagan was show signs of Alzheimers in his first term, and whether his shooting by John Hinkley might have accelerated the progress of the condition.

Bill O'Reilly is right about this, and so does Charlie Pierce. (I just threw up in my mouth)

It's a medical fact that trauma can accelerate the progress of dementia, and there are numerous accounts of of the Gipper checking out in his first term, his first debate performance against Walter Mondale being one.
One of our top commenters suggested that my account Monday morning of the dust-up between George Effing Will and Bill O'Reilly was incomplete because I failed to mention the precise casus belli. The Top Commenter is absolutely correct, and my omission is all the more odd because it involves a personal tin drum that I've been pounding since I wrote my Alzheimer's book in 2000. It also involves one of the most serious of all history's Unspoken Truths. What set Will's chilly blood aflame apparently was the fact that, in his book, Killing Reagan, O'Reilly pretty baldly states that Ronald Reagan was a symptomatic Alzheimer's patient for most of his presidency, and that having been shot was trauma enough to start what AD researchers call a "cascade" of symptoms that accelerated the progress of his disease.

(As it happens, O'Reilly's speculation is on solid scientific footing. Alzheimer's researchers and caregivers have known for years that physical trauma can worsen the effects of the disease. Certainly, the recent  research into the connection between head trauma and dementia backs this up, and I remember a fascinating Japanese study at an Alzheimer's research conference that I attended in Osaka that studied the effect of a massive earthquake in that country on Alzheimer's patients in the affected regions. In almost all cases, the disease accelerated.)

I am not willing to go as far as O'Reilly apparently does, but I have believed—and written—for years that Reagan was a symptomatic AD patient at least throughout his entire second term. My initial concern in this regard arose in 1984, during Reagan's first debate with Walter Mondale, when he plainly did not know where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. At the time, my father was beginning a slow slide into Alzheimer's himself. I knew what I was looking at on TV—and so, I learned later, did Dr. Dennis Selkoe, a prominent AD researcher in Boston. Since then, accounts of Reagan's curiously vacant episodes have popped up all over various historical accounts, and personal memoirs, of the Reagan presidency. In the latter case, everybody from Ollie North to Lawrence Walsh mentions at least one moment in which the person who was Ronald Reagan disappeared right before their eyes. In an interview in 1999 for this magazine, John McCain told me of his experience at a White House dinner, when Reagan lapsed into some middle space of his own.
Seriously, while I have no problem with disagreeing with George will, the fact that this involves me agreeing with Bill O'Reilly makes me feel a bit sick.


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