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Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia, believed to have Alzheimer’s disease

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 1:34 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Jack Hanna, beloved animal enthusiast and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, has been diagnosed with dementia and it is believed to have progressed to Alzheimer’s disease, according to his family.

In a letter issued by his family, Hanna’s daughters said he is no longer able to be a part of public life the way he used to as his condition deteriorated quickly over the last few months.

Jack Hanna is a longtime advocate for improved wildlife habitats and has worked to connect communities with animals. Hanna was an Executive Director for the Columbus zoo for more than a decade before becoming its spokesman in 1992. He retired from that role last year. During his time as spokesman, he touched millions of viewers through weekly TV programs like Animal Adventures, Into the Wild, and Wild Countdown.

“A passion for wildlife conservation and education has been at the core of who our dad is and everything he has accomplished with the help of so many,” the letter from Hanna’s daughters read. “He has spent his life connecting people and wildlife because he has always believed that having people see and experience animals is key to engaging them in more impactful conservation efforts. "

His fans will be pleased to learn that Jack Hanna still has a great sense of humor and still wears his khakis at home, according to his daughters. The family is asking for privacy during this time to keep everyone safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

We reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association Northwest Ohio Chapter, which provides resources about diagnosis and support groups for families and caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s,

“There are 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older who’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Executive Director Julia Pechlivanos. “74 is a pretty typical age of developing dementia but what’s a little bit surprising is how quickly, rapidly, the symptoms have developed.”

Locally, loved ones of those who have passed from the disease are also sharing their stories and fundraising on their own platforms in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.

This includes Ottawa Lake, Michigan resident Chris Heerdegan, who founded Rowing to Remember in honor of his late father, raising awareness for the disease.

“It hits home because it shocked me with my dad. His diagnosis, from onsets, when he passed away, it was pretty quick,” says Heerdegan. “There’s going to be so many times you’re going to go over there and they won’t know who you are, they call you by someone else’s name, they won’t remember some really significant event that you shared together and that really hurts the kids, the caregiver, the parents.”

Heerdegan advises families to be patient with their loved ones, and cherish every memory they can.

“You’ll see them someday again, and then the disease will be gone, and you’ll be able to hug them again and they’ll hug you right back,” he adds. “So just show them you love them and show as much care as you can.”

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