A London, Ont. man is declaring a victory over Alzheimer’s disease, and an educational milestone.
Ron Robert, 84, enrolled in classes as a political science student at King’s University College in 2018. This was part of a strategy to fight Alzheimer’s by keeping his mind working, after being diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease in 2016. He is now graduating with a three-year bachelor of arts in cross disciplinary studies.
“I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I sort of wondered what I’m going to do about it, said Robert. “I had two siblings that passed away with Alzheimer’s and I thought, no, I’m not going to sit on my butt and wait for it to take over. So what can I do?”
“I had a bucket [list] wish to go to university for over 60 years,” he said. “So here I am.”
Robert retired in his 70s, after a long and fruitful career working with politicians. He began working as a broadcast journalist at 17 years of age, which led to a 30-year career as a political reporter on radio and television. He eventually transitioned to a role as Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s special assistant.
“That’s why I’m taking the courses I take. It keeps my brain exercised, and I thought that was really important,” Robert explained.
Robert says being in school has even helped him stay mentally sharp. He says his long-term memory has improved, and he’s begun to remember parts of his career that can be tied to topics his classes have covered. A better long-term memory has served Robert well, considering political science history constitutes an important section of his education.
Despite that, he says his short-term memory is shot, so he required routines, re-listening to recorded lectures, and having discussions with professors to determine if course content was understood.
Helpful classmates made experience possible
Robert explained that his schooling experience has been made easier by kind, caring classmates who helped him through the process.
“So I’d sit on a bench somewhere and without fail, one or two of those beautiful young students would come up and say, ‘Gee, Ron, are you OK? Can we get you anything?’ I felt so good every time they did something like that,” he said.
He believes his classmates are an important part of his university success story, so much so that he wishes he could bring them with him on stage for the fall convocation on Oct. 19, where he will be speaking to the crowd.
“I’d like to take my diploma and cut it up in little pieces and give each one of them part of that degree, because they’re all so very helpful.”
Regardless, he tells CBC News, he’s thrilled, albeit somewhat nervous, to walk across that stage.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be nervous or dance across the floor or or the stage or what, but it’s gonna be a wonderful feeling.”
His advice for others who may be dealing with a similar diagnosis?
“Keep busy. If you have a passion for anything, follow it, but do something. It’s not puzzles and stuff, like they say on the Internet. You’ve got to be tested as you go.”