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Charlton Heston Apparently Has Alzheimer's

Actor says he has symptoms 'consistent' with the brain disease

FRIDAY, Aug. 9, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston disclosed today that he has symptoms that would indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"My dear friends, colleagues and fans, my physicians have recently told me I may have a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease," Heston, 78, said in a taped statement played at a news conference in Beverly Hills.

"I'm neither giving up nor giving in," he added.

Heston recorded the statement on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

If the diagnosis proves accurate -- and only an autopsy can tell for sure -- Heston would join the four million Americans with the degenerative neurological condition. Doctors can briefly slow the progression of Alzheimer's with drugs, but they have yet to find a cure for the illness.

Heston, whose most significant role in recent years has been president of the National Rifle Association, is the most prominent person since former president Ronald Reagan to reveal he has Alzheimer's.

Born John Charlton Carter in suburban Chicago, Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in 1959 for his role in Ben Hur.

William Thies, vice president for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, said Heston's public announcement "took an extra set of courage."

"It is a wonderful service to the community when a person who is as well known publicly as he is to acknowledge his Alzheimer's disease, because it gives people the courage to address the problem themselves," Thies said.

The announcement by the Reagans that the former president had the disease "drastically increased awareness" of the condition and helped reduce the stigma associated with it, Thies said.

Mony De Leon, director of the Brain Center at New York University Medical Center in Manhattan, said that at 78, Heston would be on the older side of the age spectrum for the first appearance of Alzheimer's. In most patients, the disorder surfaces three to five years earlier, De Leon said.

Although scientists have relatively few treatments for Alzheimer's, they have made substantial strides in early detection, De Leon said. Screening devices like magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brain, and tests of spinal fluid to look for telltale proteins, can identify footprints of the disease.

What To Do

For more on Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association. To learn more about Charlton Heston, check E! Online.

SOURCES: William Thies, Ph.D., vice president of medical and scientific affairs, Alzheimers Association, Chicago; Mony De Leon, Ed.D. director, Brain Center, New York University Medical Center, New York City
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