Will Ferrell, Ronald Reagan, and Dementialand

A few days ago, I read a plethora of news stories about how Will Ferrell was planning to play an Alzheimer’s-striken Ronald Reagan in a comedy.

Yeah, a comedy. I had to read this in several sources before I believed the news was legitimate. It just seemed like a strange project. I can’t even say I was offended when I first read about this. I was just…confused.

Reagan’s daughter seemed to learn this news at the same time as the rest of the world. She wasn’t pleased. I can’t blame her.

She penned a letter to Ferrell:


Ferrell pulled out of the project, and his camp downplayed his interest in participating in the movie. I’ve read news reports that he had only read a script to see if he might be interested. However, other reports indicate he was considering producing the movie.

I did happen to read about a few samples scenes from the script. One scene has a Reagan referring to a wardrobe assistant named Libby, saying “I want Libby out! No more Libby!” In the movie, this would lead to a confused Reagan bombing Libya.

This got me thinking about a few things that annoy me… I frequently hear people joking about having OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)–when they don’t have OCD. Someone on Facebook mentions that they are staying home to clean on Friday night because they have OCD. Or they say that they like to see the lines on the carpet after they vacuum because they have OCD. But they do not have OCD. It seems harmless enough…unless you think about the people whose lives are debilitated because they actually do have diagnosed and severe OCD. Please don’t say you have OCD because you like to be organized and enjoy having a clean house. It’s not funny or cute. OCD is an illness. If you don’t have it, be grateful.

I know someone who always says she has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). She says makes comments about her “ADHD” on social media. She talks about how she can’t stay on the treadmill more than 30 miles–because she has ADHD. She gets bored in yoga–because she has ADHD. She can’t eat the same thing for lunch two days in a row–because she has ADHD. But she doesn’t have ADHD. None of these “symptoms” truly disrupt her life, and she’s never been diagnosed with ADHD. I would expect that someone who actually had ADHD might be offended by her disregard of what ADHD is and the struggles it causes.

I find it interesting that people always make Alzheimer’s jokes around me. If they can’t remember something, they say they must have Alzheimer’s, and then they laugh. (It’s not even a creative joke, people. I hear it all the time. Come up with something better.)

Let me put this in a different context…

What if I had a bad cough and starting telling people I had cystic fibrosis–and expecting them to think I was cute and funny?

What if I had a pain in my stomach and continually made jokes about having cancer? What if I did this around people who actually had cancer or people who had lost loved ones to cancer?

What if I had a tension headache and kept referring to it on Facebook as “my brain tumor” even though I had not seen a doctor and there had been no mention of a tumor?

To be fair, I’ve been known to refer to humor as my religion. I can find humor in almost anything. Without this skill, I don’t know if I’d survive in this world.

But finding humor in a situation is different than seeing someone else’s life as a comedy. I tell my dementia families that it’s okay to laugh. In fact, it’s good to laugh. They succeed when they find humor in a difficult situation. But that doesn’t make dementia a comedy.






7 thoughts on “Will Ferrell, Ronald Reagan, and Dementialand

  1. Thank you Elaine. I was at your presentation in Clarksville a few weeks back & I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very informative & presented in a manner that all had an opportunity to be involved. I would love to hear you again sometime & have more people (my family) listen & learn. Do you have a schedule of your upcoming talks?

    Thanks, Pat Mennenga



  2. Yes, I agree with you. I wrote a play about my mom who has Alzheimer’s and there was humor in it, but I don’t believe I was ever making fun of her illness. There is a distinction.


  3. My mother got the big bad A and when she first showed symptoms like accusing dad of flirting with a waitress,saying things that made no sense ,my father would laugh at her,believe me as time went on it was not funny but sad.


  4. I agree with you and am happy to learn that Ferrell has pulled out. Hopefully, the project won’t be made at all. Alzheimer’s and President Reagan’s affliction are no laughing matter.


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