Regan and Alzheimer’s

Not a typo, I meant Regan, not the great Ronald Reagan.

Like most people, I have had family and friends affected by Alzheimer’s. Whenever I pray for an Alzheimer’s patient, I always think of the movie and novel, The Exorcist. The reason I recall The Exorcist is the reason I go on to pray for the family of the Alzheimer’s patient.

Before there was a formalized learning of the faith through the Archdiocese’s RCIA program, there was Emmaus. Before Emmaus, there was C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. Somewhere in my conga line of attractors to the Faith stands Father Merrin and Father Karras. Actually, they really represent one person, novelist William Peter Blatty. Merrin and Karras are two of his characters in The Exorcist.

I was impacted by seeing the movie when I was 13 and I know I read the paperback novel about a year or two later. This part of the book always has stayed with me and is the reason The Exorcist and Alzheimer’s share a hyper-link in my brain.

Karras spoke again. “We say the demon … cannot touch the victim’s will.”

[Merrin] “Yes, that is so … that is so…. There is no sin.”

“Then what would be the purpose of possession?” Karras said frowning. “What’s the point.”

“Who can know?” answered Merrin. “Who can really hope to know?” He thought for a moment. And then probingly continued: “Yet I think the demon’s target is not the possessed; it is us … the observers … every person in this house. And I think–I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity, Damien: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy. And there lies the heart of it, perhaps: in unworthiness. For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it finally is a matter of love, of accepting the possibility that God could love us….”

Again Merrin paused. He continued more slowly and with a hush of introspection: “He knows … the demon knows where to strike….” He was nodding. “Long ago I despaired of ever loving my neighbor. Certain people … repelled me. How could I love them? I thought. It tormented me, Damien; it led me to despair of myself … and from that, very soon, to despair of my God. My faith was shattered….”

Karras looked up at Merrin with interest. “And what happened?” he asked.

“Ah well … at last I realized that God would never ask of me that which I know to be psychologically impossible; that the love which He asked was in my will and not meant to be felt as emotion at all. Not at all. He was asking that I act with love; that I do unto others; and that I should do it unto those who repelled me, I believe, was a greater act of love than any other.” He shook his head. “I know that all this must seem very obvious Damien. I know. But at the time I could not see it. Strange blindness. How many husbands and wives,” he uttered sadly, “must believe they have fallen out of love because their hearts no longer race at the sight of their beloveds! Ah, dear God!” He shook his head; and then nodded. There it lies I think Damien … possession; not in wars, as some tend to believe; not so much; and very seldom in extraordinary interventions such as here … this girl … this poor child. No I see it most often in little things Damien: in the senseless petty spites; the misunderstandings; the cruel and cutting word that leaps unbidden to the tongue between friends. Between lovers. Enough of these,” Merrin whispered, “and we have no need of Satan to manage our wars; these we manage for ourselves … for ourselves….”

Does a great insight get marginalized because it came as part of a package which is remembered for much less subtle plot twists, i.e., a teenager’s twisting neck. Yes, but in matters of the faith, all setbacks are merely temporary. You now know that whatever else Blatty wrote, he managed to deliver a compelling Christian message worthy of C.S. Lewis on a good day.

The text of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s announcement is copied in full at end of post.

In this letter to the American People, Reagan announces his Alzheimer’s diagnosis – Nov. 5, 1994

My Fellow Americans,

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had my cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing.

They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now, we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life’s journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.


Ronald Reagan

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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2 Responses to Regan and Alzheimer’s

  1. Kathy says:

    My name is Kathy and I am the full time caregiver for my eighty one year-old Dad who has Alzheimer's and lives with me in North Carolina.

    When my Mom died in 2004 and Dad moved in with me, I had no idea what to do. But day by day, I found ways to cope, and even enjoy having my Dad with me.

    So I started writing a blog at, which shows the “lighter” side of caring for someone with dementia.

    After a while, I added over 100 pages of helpful information and tips for caregivers. We even have a Chat room so caregivers can communicate with each other from home. Art and music are a very large part of my Dad's therapy.

    Please pass this link along to anyone you feel would enjoy it.

    Kathy Hatfield

  2. Jorge Costales says:


    Thank you for the note. I checked out your blog and was impressed with all the information available.

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