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Elderly man went to school to help fight Alzheimer's and now he has a degree: 'I'm living a full life'

'When I went across the stage, and as I'm getting my diploma, the kids all stood up and yelled and clapped,' Robert recalled.

Elderly man went to school to help fight Alzheimer's and now he has a degree: 'I'm living a full life'
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Western University

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.



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 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.



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.



“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.

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