The physician who diagnosed former President Ronald Reagan with Alzheimer’s disease and treated country musician Glen Campbell for Alzheimer’s will speak at the University of Kentucky in hopes of raising awareness about the disease.
Dr. Ron Petersen is the keynote speaker at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging for the fifth annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia. Petersen will give a lecture on Nov. 21 on how soon Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed. It is free and open to the public.
Petersen, 69, is the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic. Before joining the Mayo Clinic, Petersen attended medical school at Mayo Medical School, went to Stanford University on an internship, went back to Mayo Medical School for a residency in neurology, and finished his training with a fellowship at Harvard University. In 1986, at age 40, he joined the staff at the Mayo Clinic.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – a group of brain disorders that results in loss of mental capability. In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells deteriorate and die, causing memory loss. According to the National Institute on Aging, some symptoms include memory problems, movement difficulties, problems with sense of smell, and impaired reasoning or judgment.
Petersen diagnosed Reagan with the disease in 1994. Because of doctor-patient confidentiality, Petersen couldn’t go into much detail about the diagnosis, but he did say that Reagan did not seek him out for treatment.
“Back when he was in the White House as the president, he had been seen by Mayo Clinic doctors. There’s a longstanding history,” he said. Reagan wrote a letter to the public on Nov. 5, 1994, announcing his diagnosis.
In June 2011, country musician Glen Campbell announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease six months earlier. Campbell made a documentary, titled Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, in 2014. At the time, Campbell was already seeing doctors for his care, but the producers and director of the documentary asked the Mayo Clinic “for some medical backup and medical oversight of the direction of the film.”
The reason they approached the Mayo Clinic, Petersen said, was because “they had had other experience at the Mayo Clinic, medically. Either themselves or through friends that they had known who had come to the Mayo Clinic for a variety of medical issues.”
Over the course of his work with the film, Petersen eventually became involved with Campbell’s care and treatment. Petersen said he keeps in touch with Campbell’s wife, Kim, but he no longer treats Glen.
Petersen’s lecture at the Sanders-Brown Center will be about how recent findings have led medical professionals to change the way Alzheimer’s disease is regarded.
“We now view Alzheimer’s disease as a spectrum of disorders, from people who are clearly impaired with dementia — the dementia stage of Alzheimer’s disease — but also the earlier stages, so-called mild cognitive impairment stage, or MCI. And now we also recognize that people who are normal — cognitively, clinically normal — can have the underlying biological predisposition to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
Petersen said he hopes his lecture will lead to a greater public consciousness and consideration of Alzheimer’s research.
“One of the barriers to effective treatments and therapies of Alzheimer’s disease is the lack of participation of people in clinical trials,” he said, and people can help researchers at the Sanders-Brown Center by participating in trials.
This year’s Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia is a two-day program with sessions for scientists and lay people alike. Clinicians and researchers from the University of Kentucky and other institutions will share current findings, trends and latest updates on dementia and aging disorders, particularly as related to Alzheimer’s disease.
If you go
Fifth annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia
When: Nov. 21.
Where: Bluegrass Ballroom, Lexington Center, 430 West Vine Street
Cost: Free, but you must register.
Register: www.uky.edu/coa or (859) 323-6040