Brain Disease Taking More Celebrities, Leaders

President Bush Had Parkinson’s-Like Symptoms

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away today. The two-time vice president under Ronald Reagan lived with vascular parkinsonism for several years. At age 94, Bush was the longest living president in history and an inspiration for others with neurodegenerative disease.

Last week also saw the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the animated smash “SpongeBob SquarePants,” who died at the age of 57. Hillenburg died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after revealing last year that he had been diagnosed with the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

Just a few weeks earlier, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her diagnosis with “the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.” O’Connor, 88, is the first woman to serve on the high court and has remained active since retiring in 2006. She left the court to care for her husband, John, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, O’Connor says, her condition is forcing her to withdraw from public life.

Sandra Day O'Connor Alzheimer's disease

“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she writes in a letter released by the Supreme Court’s public information office. “As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life,” O’Connor says. “Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts.”

O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court in 2005 because of her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease.  He died in 2009.

Media mogul and entrepreneur Ted Turner announced his diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, which leaves him “exhausted and forgetful.”

Ted Turner dementia

“It’s a mild case of Alzheimer’s, but not nearly as bad. Alzheimer’s is fatal,” Turner told journalist Ted Koppel.

Comedian Robin Williams, who died by suicide in 2014, had the same form of brain disease.

Actor, director, screenwriter and author Alan Alda, best known for playing Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H*, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. He made his diagnosis public in 2018, saying “I was diagnosed three-and-a-half years ago and I’ve had a full life since then.”

Parkinson's disease Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond announced his battle with Parkinson’s disease just a few months ago. He is retiring to focus on his health.

Of course, these big names aren’t the first to battle brain disease and they won’t be the last. God bless all of the families ravaged by this growing epidemic. Neurodegenerative disease is the fastest-growing cause of death in the world. It strikes people of all ages. It’s ravaging some countries more than others. Unfortunately, there is a growing stack of evidence that Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain diseases are transmissible. They also are being misdiagnosed and undiagnosed at an alarming rate. Deadly, self-replicating proteins appear to be one of the common threads. Learn more about the epidemic.

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