'When I went across the stage, and as I'm getting my diploma, the kids all stood up and yelled and clapped,' Robert recalled.
The number of cases of Alzheimer's has been growing and there are close to 6 million cases in the US alone, which is expected to increase to 13 million by 2050, according to Medical News Today. For now, there is no cure for the disease other than lifestyle changes. That's why when Ron Robert was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease seven years ago, he decided to pursue a course to keep his mind active. And last fall, he graduated from the university, according to CTV News.
"I was always taught early in life that the brain is like the most powerful instrument we have in our body," said Robert. So he took a three-year bachelor of arts program at King's University College, in London, Ontario. He had immense support from his teachers and peers when he walked across the stage in October for his convocation ceremony. "When I went across the stage, and as I'm getting my diploma, the kids all stood up and yelled and clapped," he recalled. "I had to hold back the tears. It was something else, just wonderful."
Before the ceremony, while talking about receiving the diploma, he told CTV that it gives a lot of people hope they can live a good life with this illness. "There will come a time when I won't be able to, and I fully expect that. But in the meantime, I'm living a full life.” Over the time he was at the university, despite his condition worsening, Robert believes that the regular mental challenges he went through may have helped slow the deterioration. “My short-term memory is terrible…but my long-term memory is not bad. It's actually improved,” he said.
"I want to cross that stage with some of those great, bright young adults."— Inspired Living (@InspiredLiv) January 8, 2019
Once Ron Robert was diagnosed with #Alzheimers, he made a goal to enroll into a university and graduate helping keep his mind healthy and active. #mindovermatter #seniorliving #dementia https://t.co/b4lHzruZBv
Ron Robert was a former radio broadcaster and journalist in Western Canada, as reported by The London Free Press. Later, he became a political advisor to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau but never got a chance to attend university. “I wanted to get a university education,” he said. “I knew I was going to be tested and I knew it was long-term. Those two things made me decide university was the way to go.” When Robert's wife, Catherine Cornelius, was asked if she noticed any memory decline since his course began, she said it was still pretty good. "I think it's just because he keeps his mind active," she said.
A 2022 study by the Neurology.org states that people with mild cognitive impairment who have a higher level of education may be less likely to develop dementia.
It was not easy for Robert to start studying again. He said that in the first two years of classes, he was "learning to learn again." It was apparently a challenge for him to remember names, dates, and places, even though he understood the facts.
When I got into university it is quite delightful being among the young people and the professors. “It has triggered so many memories.” Ron Robert living his life with #Alzheimers by going to school. @LondonMorning @JHazlewoodCBC @univcan @AlzCanada pic.twitter.com/YuYrxNMs2R— King's at Western (@KingsAtWestern) January 8, 2019
Sometimes during tests, when he was stuck, his teachers would say one or two keywords, "and that's all I needed." Other than studying, Robert also built friendships with students who were way younger than him. "Sometimes they would come to me with their problems because I would look like the old grandfather on the campus, I guess, and they felt comfortable speaking to me," he said.
One of his professors, Jeff Preston, said he is "thrilled" by Robert's achievement. “I think Ron is the living embodiment of the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, or perhaps, don’t assume someone cannot [do something] simply because of a diagnosis,” said Preston.
85-year-old Ron Robert graduated from @KingsAtWestern despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.— White Coat Black Art (@cbcwhitecoat) March 4, 2023
Ron now coaches health professionals on empathy.
He offers valuable insight on how to deal with this pervasive disease. @NightShiftMD
Listen: https://t.co/MW6heU0KUu Watch:⬇️ pic.twitter.com/8fMTj87HUC
“We have this perception that people with disabilities like Alzheimer’s are wholly incapable. I think what Ron has shown is that all sorts of people can succeed in a university classroom when provided with the right environment and supports to nurture success,” he added.