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Heston Addresses Public Regarding Potential Alzheimer's

Aired August 9, 2002 - 14:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: But first, famed actor Charlton Heston is taking on a new role, a person dealing with Alzheimer's. Heston announced today that he has symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease. Heston, who is president of the NRA, the National Rifle Association, made his heartfelt statement to the members of the group.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLESTON HESTON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: 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. So I wanted to prepare a few words for you now, because when the time comes, I may not be able to.

I've lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I have found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor, there's no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Heston was elected president of the National Rifle Association back in 1998, and his spokesperson has made it very clear that he is going to continue working and being involved politically. He will also be keeping his post as the NRA head until his term ends next April.

Now, let's get a better understanding of what this means to show the symptoms or signs of the early stages -- the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Let's check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- make it very clear for us. He -- obviously, all of his faculties are in check. He is coherent and able to address his friends and all those concerned. But about what kind of symptoms might he be experiencing?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Alzheimer's, there's not a blood test or a radiology test or anything that can diagnose it.

It really is diagnosed based on symptoms, and Fredricka, as you point out, he looks pretty good in that press conference we just saw. But certainly, lapses in memory, that can be a problem. Difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language. That can be something that people start to see. Changes in personality, loss of initiative, those are all things that might be very subtle, certainly at the onset of Alzheimer's, something that friends and family might not even notice, but certainly doctors, upon performing a series of cognitive evaluations, psychiatric evaluations, psychology evaluations, all those sorts of things will start to see it. Certainly doesn't sound like he has any loss of initiative though. Still, very busy schedule planned there, Fredricka, as we heard.

WHITFIELD: Well, isn't rather typical that usually if someone begins to show symptoms of Alzheimer's, that perhaps it's the family members or those who work closest to that person kind of raise the red flag, Hey something is wrong, you need to get help. Usually it is not the other way around that the person is so quick to admit that there is a problem.

GUPTA: That's absolutely right. A lot of times, the people who actually have the Alzheimer's don't know that they have it. In fact, because of some of these symptoms of Alzheimer's, again, the loss of memory, the decreased familiarity with what otherwise should be very normal things can be very problematic, so it is oftentimes friends and family that first notice those signs and symptoms. Sometimes they get confused with just -- quote-unquote -- "signs of old age." But certainly, with Alzheimer's, the symptoms are more severe. Although they can be subtle at first, they become more severe.

It is a common problem. Ten percent of people over the age of 65 will have it. Fifty percent of people over the age of 85 will develop Alzheimer's. That's what the statistics predict. Mr. Heston is going to be 79 this year.

WHITFIELD: Yes, that's right. He is going to be celebrating that 79th birthday in October, and he made it very clear that he is going to keep working. He is going to continue to be the NRA president, at least until his term is up, and he is going to even continue shooting movies. He has got a project upcoming. How important is it for someone who is in the early stages continue about some normalcy, continue working if that's what they want to do?

GUPTA: Right. Well, I think that most doctors would recommend a few things. First of all, there are good medications out there which maybe they would prescribe for Mr. Heston. Also maintaining some normalcy of schedule, normalcy of events, normalcy of surroundings are all important things. I will say, however, as well, that most people would also recommend probably toning back a bit on the schedule. Rest is also an important part of the treatment for Alzheimer's. Keeping a very, very busy schedule may not be the best advice from doctors, although it sounds like, from what we heard, Fredricka, Mr. Heston is going to keep that schedule cruising right along.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much. Dr. Sanjay Gupta for helping us understand the early signs now that Charlton Heston is saying that he is feeling of Alzheimer's.

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