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David Cassidy, 1970s Pop Icon, Reveals That He's Battling Dementia


His mother and grandfather had the condition as well.

David Cassidy -- Mark Westwood / Getty Images
Mark Westwood / Getty Images

David Cassidy, star of the hit 1970s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family, revealed sad news on Monday: He’s battling dementia. The singer/actor disclosed that he has the disease, which causes a person to lose their memory, after reportedly struggling through a performance in Agoura Hills, California, on February 18. Video footage from the concert posted on YouTube shows Cassidy, 66, appearing to forget the words to The Partridge Family theme song "C’mon Get Happy"—a song he’s sung countless times over several decades.

Cassidy tells People that he saw his mother “disappear” into the mental illness until she died at age 89, and his grandfather battled dementia as well. “I was in denial,” he says of his diagnosis, “but a part of me always knew this was coming.”

It was especially difficult to see his mom struggle. “In the end, the only way I knew she recognized me is with one single tear that would drop from her eye every time I walked into the room.… I feared I would end up that way,” he says.

Now, the singer says he’s going to stop touring as a musician to concentrate on his health. “I want to focus on what I am, who I am, and how I’ve been without any distractions,” he says. “I want to love. I want to enjoy life.”

“Dementia” is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although dementia typically involves memory loss, having memory loss alone doesn’t mean someone has dementia, the organization says.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia (meaning, dementia that gets worse over time), but there are other forms, including Lewy Body Dementia, the disease Robin Williams suffered from before his death.

Dementia is typically a disease associated with aging—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that anywhere from 6 to 10 percent of people aged 65 and older suffer from the condition, and the prevalence increases with age.

Along with memory loss, major symptoms include difficulty communicating or finding words, difficulty with problem-solving, planning, and organizing, confusion, and disorientation, per the Mayo Clinic. The disease can also change a person’s personality, because depression, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations can be symptoms, Mayo reports.

“Classically, people with dementia are unable to have insight that they’re forgetting things,” Marc Leavey, M.D., an internist at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center, tells SELF. Typically, they don’t agree that they’re struggling until they’re presented with evidence from a loved one or they experience something extreme, like getting lost while going somewhere, forgetting their child’s name, or leaving a burner on in their house, he says.

There may be more subtle declines in cognitive function that can go unnoticed in people with dementia, like having trouble coordinating and planning complex daily activities, licensed clinical neuropsychologist Hector M. González, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University, tells SELF. "Unless a person has had a major event, like a stroke, subtle cognitive declines are generally gradual and can go unnoticed by family members," he says.

As Cassidy suggested, family history matters when it comes to dementia, Leavey says—people with relatives who have suffered from dementia are at a greater risk of developing it as well. While 66 is a young age for a person to exhibit symptoms of dementia, it can and does happen, especially with a family history of dementia, Vernon Williams, M.D., a neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, tells SELF.

If dementia runs in your family, Williams says there are genetic tests that can help gauge your risk of developing it, and it’s worth discussing with your doctor whether they’re right for you. However, he says, the tests aren’t 100 percent accurate. “Some people with genes associated with dementia will never develop it,” he says.

Dementia isn’t just caused by genetics, though. Williams says it can also be caused by vascular diseases like blood clotting disorders, uncontrolled diabetes, and alcohol or substance abuse, among other things.

Research is still ongoing as to what people can do to lower their risk of dementia. One 2014 study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society found that people who regularly did crossword puzzles had a delayed onset of memory decline as compared to those who didn’t do crossword puzzles.

To that end, Leavey says it “doesn’t hurt” to do things to stimulate your brain, noting that reading a book, doing Sudoku puzzles, and learning a new language are all good ways to do just that. “We encourage our patients to do these things,” he says.

Physical activity can also help lower your risk. “The brain loves exercise,” Williams says. “To the extent that individuals can remain active, that seems to have a significant positive effect on a person’s risk of dementia and delaying onset of dementia.”

While dementia is frightening, Leavey says most people shouldn’t stress about developing it if they don’t have a family history of the disease. If you do, he recommends talking to a doctor to get neuropsychological measurements to establish where you are, mental health-wise, and talk about potential treatment options. González says he's "very hopeful" that with more research, scientists can help lower dementia risks and find new ways to prevent the disease from impacting others.

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