He is America's most famous Alzheimer's victim, and on a good day he can still get off a satisfying one-liner. Reminded last month that his granddaughter Ashley, 13, had once said she would love him "even if Grandpa didn't know me," Ronald Reagan shot back, "What do they mean? I know who Ashley is." On a bad day, however, a former high White House official can stop by for a brief visit and leave convinced that his old boss could not quite place him.

Good days and bad days--the bland phrase often used to describe the terrible toll of Alzheimer's--connotes balance....

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