'Dear Abby' Struggles With Alzheimer's

His mother was reading from the book, I Love You, Ronnie, Nancy Reagan's book of love letters between herself and her husband, Ronald Reagan, who now suffers from Alzheimer's.

"She began reading to me, having not had that capacity for some time, or that interest," Eddie Phillips said. His mother read the following passage from the book: "No one can really know what it's like unless they travel this path — and there are many right now traveling the same path I am. You know it's a progressive disease and there is no place to go but down, no light at the end of the tunnel. Every day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other and go and love — just love."

For Eddie Phillips, it was proof that his mother — though changed by Alzheimer's — was still aware.

"I really believe that it was my mom telling me that she understood," he said. "And it was extremely emotional and I didn't want it to end. It was a conversation I shall never ever forget."

He said his mother has a strong recollection of she is and who her family is, but the memories fade in and out.

"But we who love her know which memories are especially important to her and the ones that bring her most joy," Eddie Phillips said. "And we focus on those and the result is a very wide smile and laughter on her part."

Honoring a Mother

As his mother slips further and further away, Eddie Phillips wanted to do something to honor her. A successful businessman in his own right, he and a second, anonymous donor, have given an extraordinary $10 million grant to the Mayo Clinic to create the Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

"We need to recruit a large group of normal elderly individuals who are living in Rochester, Minn., and follow them for the next five, 10, 15 years,to see what happens," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the new center. "From that we'll learn not only who's going to develop Alzheimer's disease in the future, but we'll also derive a feeling for who lives successfully through aging."

The study will shed light on the disease, said Dr. Cliff Jack, another member of the research clinic's staff. "It's only with this sort of longitudinal study that you can test, make a measurement of now and then five years from now, what's happened to the patient, go back and see which measurements were and which measurements weren't particularly useful," Jack said.

The ultimate goal is simple, Eddie Phillips said: "To find both a cure and a prevention for Alzheimer's disease and wipe this devastating illness off the map of the world."

In 1964, Dear Abby gave some philosophical advice: "The purpose of life is to amount to something and have it make some difference that you lived at all," she said.

For Eddie Phillips, there is no question in his mind about his mother's impact.

"I believe she made a profound difference in many lives countless times — and if that is the acid test of a good life, she passed with flying colors," he said.

If you want to send a letter of encouragement or thanks to Dear Abby, send letters to: letters@avbthankyou.com or A.V.B. One Main Street SE Suite 210 Minneapolis, MN 55414

To find out more about Alzheimer's Disease, go to the following links: http://www.mayoclinic.org/alzheimers/index.html

http://mayoresearch.mayo.edu/mayo/research/Featured_Stories/alzheimers_disease/

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