12 July, 2013

Did any presidents besides Reagan suffer any forms of dementia?

Did any presidents besides Reagan suffer any forms of dementia?
deadpresidents deadpresidents said:

This is tough to answer because what we now recognize as symptoms of dementia might have been diagnosed very differently over the years as senility or the ravages of time and age.  In past decades, someone whose faculties declined with age and began showing signs of dementia was often just seen as a doddering old man.
I don’t think any Presidents (with the exception of Reagan towards the very end of his term) showed any worrisome signs during their time in office.  Speculating about afterward becomes difficult because the families of Presidents often want the public’s legacy or memory of the former leader to be that of the healthy, vigorous person we saw in the White House.  If a former President’s health is failing or they have significantly declined. their public appearances are often curtailed, carefully choreographed, or eliminated altogether.  Even Reagan, who announced his battle with Alzheimer’s to the public, completely disappeared from public life shortly after the announcement and was basically never seen again despite the fact that he lived for another 10 years.
I’ve read accounts from some historians who believe that William Howard Taft might have been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease towards the end of his life.  Taft was President from 1909-1913, but served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1923-1930, resigning due to his failing health about a month before his death on March 8, 1930.  His last year or so on the Court had often seen him confused and his memory had been failing him often.  He even botched administering the Presidential oath of office to Herbert Hoover at Hoover’s inauguration on March 4, 1929.  Although, to be fair, our relatively young current Chief Justice, John Roberts, also botched the oath of office at President Obama’s first inauguration and his health seems fine.
Another President who seemed to suffer a significant mental decline was Woodrow Wilson, but Wilson’s health was ravaged by strokes — not only by the time he died, but for decades.  Wilson definitely suffered at least five strokes and may have been the victim of up to eleven strokes by the time of his death.  Wilson’s first stroke was before he turned 40 and his health was so poor that he never would have been elected President today.  Wilson actually had suffered three definitive strokes and three other stroke-like illnesses before he was even elected Governor of New Jersey in 1910.  Of course, Wilson also suffered a massive stroke in October 1919 that crippled him for the remaining 18 months of his Presidency — an illness so incapacitating that he should have resigned and would have been forced to had his true condition not been hidden from his Cabinet, Congress, the press, and the nation by his wife and doctor.
For the rest of Wilson’s life, he was practically an invalid and in a very fragile emotional state, as many victims of severe strokes can be.  Not only was Wilson quick to lose his temper, but he often lost control of himself and burst into tears for seemingly minor reasons to everyone else.  Wilson had been a man of great intellect — the only President to earn a doctorate — but his weakened health had robbed him of his strong, inquisitive mind.  During the last months of his Presidency and the few short years he had left in his life, Wilson became obsessed with simple, petty issues like the decor and colors in certain rooms or speeding drivers in Washington, D.C.  These were also probably due to the damage done to his brain by his strokes


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