Ronald Reagan, America’s 40th president, likely suffered the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease while still in office, according to a new study that analyzed his speech patterns over the course of his term.
Reagan maintained that he would abdicate the presidency at the first sign of mental decline, according to the Daily Mail. Despite this fact, Reagan was known to make contradictory statements at times, even forgetting names on occasion. He was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, years after leaving office.
— Mitch Wagner (@MitchWagner) March 30, 2015
Researchers at the University of Arizona recently concluded that Reagan was likely suffering the earliest stages of the disease while still president. Studying transcripts of 46 press conferences held by Reagan, they analyzed his speech patterns, noting repetition of words and identifying triggers, like the word “thing,” used to recall subjects. The algorithm utilized by researchers is similar to one that has been previously employed to analyze novels, determining changes in writing.
“Key word counts previously associated with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease were extracted and regression analyses were conducted,” the study noted.
— Larry Tenney (@LarryTenney) November 5, 2014
The team then compared their analysis of Reagan’s speech to President George H.W. Bush’s oratorical efforts, extrapolated from 101 press conferences he held, according to the New York Times. They found that over time, Reagan displayed a “significant reduction in the number of unique words” he used, increasingly relying on non-specific terms and generalized nouns. Crucially, however, they point out that the research does not conclusively prove that the level of dementia displayed could have affected Reagan’s judgement.
— Benjamin Mast (@benjaminmast1) November 8, 2014
In 2010, Ronald Reagan’s son, Ron, alleged that he had noted symptoms of his father’s disease as early as 1984. Calling the former president “out-of-touch” during his reelection campaign that year, the junior Reagan recalled a time in 1986 that his father couldn’t remember the names of California canyons they were flying over. A former governor of the state, Reagan knew the landmarks well. Ron Reagan also asserted in the book that he believes, had his father been diagnosed during his second term, he would have stepped down.
In the time since Reagan’s death, promising advances have been made toward a cure for Alzheimer‘s, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. The researchers hope, however, that implementation of their technique may help to identify the onset of the disease earlier, allowing for treatment to be provided when it is most effective.
Ronald Reagan died in 2004, having lived 93 years.
[Photo via Keystone Hulton Archive/ Getty Images]