Reagan's speeches provide Alzheimer's clues

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Researchers say they have uncovered subtle clues of early dementia in Ronald Reagan's presidential speeches from years before he was formally diagnosed in 1994. While the revelation provides no evidence Reagan was impaired in office, it could provide tools to spot the disease years before symptoms become clinically evident, according to published reports.

Moreover, as Arizona State University researchers note in a recent issue of The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, early detection could allow current therapies to be used more effectively and stave off the onset of Alzheimer's in some patients.

“In 1980, Mr. Reagan told me that he would resign the presidency if White House doctors found him mentally unfit,” Dr. Lawrence K. Altman writes in the March 30 issue of The New York Times. “Years later, those doctors and key aides told me they had not detected any changes in his mental abilities while in office.”

Researchers compared transcripts of news conferences during Reagan's and successor George H. W. Bush's presidencies, and uncovered anomalies in numerous Reagan speeches such as “use of repetitive words and substituting nonspecific terms like ‘thing' for specific nouns,” the report adds. Their analysis entailed assessing changes in speech patterns with a new algorithm based on a technique used by others to analyze changes in writing by novelists, according to The New York Times.