independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Son tells of Reynolds' battle with Alzheimer's

Down Royal Races...5 November 2004; Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds at Down Royal Racecourse, Co. Antrim. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE...ABC
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Photo: Sportsfile

FORMER Taoiseach Albert Reynolds is losing his brave fight against Alzheimer's. He requires 24-hour care and no longer recognises some members of his family or old friends.

But he is still determined not to let his pride slip and greets people like an astute politician as he battles the very late stages of Alzheimer's disease.

His family have spoken out for the first time about his experience over the past five years, battling the condition that affects more than 40,000 people across the country.

His son Philip said the former Taoiseach was still able to make people believe if they wanted to that he recognised them, and still remained a "politician first and foremost".

"You would never know whether he knew you or recognised you because he would greet you the same no matter what," he said.

"And there's still a bit of that glint in his eye when you come into the room."

He was speaking after the former Taoiseach's condition meant he had to miss an event last week with his close friend, former British prime minister John Major.

It was to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Downing Street Declaration which laid the foundations for the peace process and led to Albert Reynolds being nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

But Albert Reynolds (81) is now no longer able to recognise most of his old political associates. When his family tried to jog his memory by showing him old political videos, the only person he knew was his former adviser, the late Fianna Fail councillor Mickey Doherty.

He is being looked after by his wife Kathleen at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, where they live in an apartment.

QUESTIONS

Philip Reynolds said that the Alzheimer's condition had manifested itself in slow and subtle ways over the past five years.

"Little things, like he would repeat himself and asking the same questions over and over again. It moves on from that then to forgetting things and I think it's difficult to describe it. Slowly but surely it just eats away at the brain," he said.

Philip gave a detailed account of his father's battle with Alzheimer's on Shannonside Radio's Joe Finnegan show after listeners had enquired about his condition.

Albert Reynolds had been a very popular politician, who spent most of his career sitting as TD for Longford-Westmeath.

The former Taoiseach's son said it had been difficult for the "pretty private" family to deal with his father's illness because of his high public profile and his home in the Four Seasons Hotel.

"That's a very public place, and he enjoyed being in the public eye. Even in his early stages of illness, he would like nothing better than to be in the lobby of the hotel, meeting and greeting and talking to people," he said.

However, he added that as his father's condition deteriorated it was no longer possible for him to have those conversations.

"I don't like to say this. He went from being somebody that people would like to meet to almost being a nuisance to people," he said.

His father was first elected to the Dail as a Fianna Fail TD in 1977 and became a minister two years later.

He went on to become Taoiseach of two Fianna Fail-led coalitions between 1992 and 1994. But he resigned as Taoiseach after a row with then Labour leader Dick Spring about appointing Attorney General Harry Whelan as President of the High Court.

Philip said that his father's main regret about a very successful political career was his short spell as Taoiseach.

"He would of course have loved to have spent longer than two years as Taoiseach of the country," he said.

Philip Reynolds hit out at the coverage of his father's non-attendance at the Mahon Tribunal while he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

He said that suggestions that he was trying to dodge it were "hurtful" because doctors had told him he was not capable of appearing.

"He was adamant he was going to defend himself and if he could none of us would have stopped him. But the sad reality was that he wouldn't have been able to defend himself," he added.

Irish Independent

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