Zoologist Jack Hanna’s ‘Health Has Deteriorated Quickly’ Following Dementia Diagnosis

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Korin Miller
·3 min read
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Photo credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images
  • Zoologist Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia, believed to be Alzheimer’s disease, at 74.

  • “His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated” his daughters shared in a statement.

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults, many of whom first experience symptoms in their mid-60s.

Jack Hanna’s family shared heartbreaking news yesterday: The beloved zoologist has dementia. Hanna’s daughters shared in a statement that doctors believe the 74-year-old has Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that eventually wipes out memory and thinking skills, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated” and his “health has deteriorated quickly” the statement said. “Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned, and laughed alongside him.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults, many of whom first experience symptoms in their mid-60s. According to estimates, per the NIA, up to 5.5 million Americans aged 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms can vary depending on the stage of the disease, but memory problems are usually one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s, according to the NIA. People with the condition may also experience difficulty finding the right words, vision and spatial issues, impaired reasoning or judgment, asking the same questions over and over again, getting lost easily, or trouble doing everyday things like driving a car or cooking a meal.

“We like to diagnose people when they have mild cognitive impairment; they can still do day-to-day activities but are having some problem with memory or cognition,” explains Douglas Scharre, M.D., a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “We can start treatment earlier to slow the progression of the disease.”

If someone’s Alzheimer’s disease is progressing faster than expected, doctors will often do testing to make sure they’re not suffering from a different form of dementia, like Lewy body dementia or frontotemporal dementia, which can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s, says Mary Catherine Lundquist, program coordinator at Care2Caregivers at the COPSA Institute for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. Other medical factors like a history of stroke, head injury, or an underlying cancer can also speed up progression, she says.

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The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, where Hanna remains director emeritus, said in a statement that the zoo is “saddened” to learn of Hanna’s diagnosis. During his time there, Hanna strived to connect people to wildlife and for improved global conservation efforts until his retirement last year.

His daughters have asked for privacy at this time, adding that “we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through. And yes—he still wears his khakis at home.”

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