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Singer Tony Bennett reveals battle with Alzheimer’s

In an exclusive with AARP magazine, Bennett, 94, revealed he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016.

WASHINGTON — Music icon Tony Bennett has revealed that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in an article with AARP magazine on Monday.

"Life is a gift - even with Alzheimer’s. Thank you to Susan and my family for their support, and @AARP The Magazine for telling my story," Bennett wrote in a tweet.

AARP said Alzheimer's is a specific brain disease that progressively and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills. Age is the biggest risk factor for the disease.

In the exclusive article with AARP magazine, Bennett, 94, revealed he was first diagnosed in 2016. His wife Susan told AARP that even while recording the follow up to the "Cheek to Cheek" album with Lady Gaga in 2018 and early 2020, he was showing signs of the disease. 

The magazine says the "Because of You” singer endures “increasingly rarer moments of clarity and awareness.”

Susan said that while her husband can recognize family members, but he is not always sure where he is or what is happening around him. 

“He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do. He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder," Gayatri Devi, M.D., the neurologist who diagnosed Bennett in 2016, said.

Bennett has lived an incredible life. He performed for eleven U.S. presidents, he's a WWII veteran and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma to support civil rights. Not only that, but Bennett has won 18 Grammy's and was nominated for 36 for his extensive singing career, according to his website.

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He won his first Grammy for the 1962 recording of "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." His most recent Grammy win was in 2015 for the album "The Silver Lining: The Songs Of Jerome Kern."

A beloved interpreter of American standards, Bennett's chart-topping career spans seven decades. “He's not the old Tony anymore,” his wife, Susan, told the magazine. “But when he sings, he's the old Tony.”

Bennett's neurologist is encouraging him to continue singing and performing as long as he could happily do so, according to AARP's article. He continues to rehearse and twice a week goes through his 90-minute set with his longtime pianist, Lee Musiker. The magazine says he sings with perfect pitch and apparent ease.

“Singing is everything to him,” Susan told AARP. “Everything. It has saved his life many times. Many times. Through divorces and things. If he ever stops singing, that's when we'll know …”

Mental decline is a feared aspect of growing older. One in 8 Americans age 60 or older report having at least some memory loss and roughly 35% of them report problems with brain function, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While this doesn't always lead to full-blown dementia, the number of older people in the United States struggling with cognitive issues is growing. The CDC predicts the number of people in the U.S. with dementia – including its most common form, Alzheimer's disease – will nearly triple to roughly 14 million people by 2060. Currently, there are an estimated 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer's, according to AARP.

AARP's Senior Vice President Sarah Lock said that while there is no treatment for Alzheimer's disease but “there's a lot that people can do to delay symptoms and improve their quality of life."

Some of the encouraging behaviors that can help delay Alzheimer's and ease the course of the disease include maintaining social ties, challenging the brain, managing stress, exercising, eating right and getting quality sleep.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credit: Associated Press
Tony Bennett attends the American Ballet Theatre Fall Gala at the David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)