Profiles of Aphasia: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower. 5-star general during World War II. 34th President of the United States. He established NASA and the Interstate Highway System. And he experienced aphasia.
We’ve been profiling well-known people with aphasia, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gabby Giffords. Aphasia can affect anyone; even presidents.
The President’s Health
While he was the first president to release his health records, he also kept the severity of his heart attacks from the public. A heart attack in 1955 created health problems which culminated in a stroke in 1957 during a cabinet meeting. This stroke left him temporarily unable to speak or move his hand.
His New York Times obituary references his aphasia, which was present while he was in office.
The demands of the times would have taxed the energy of the healthiest of men, and they were especially heavy for Eisenhower on account of his heart attack and his bout of ileitis. His health was further compromised Nov. 25, 1957, when he suffered an occlusion of a small branch of the middle cerebral artery on the left side. He was left with a mild aphasia (difficulty in speaking) and he was not pronounced recovered from the stroke until March 1, 1958.
Yes, even presidents of the United States are not immune to strokes, and this one occurred and was treated while Eisenhower was in office.
The Stroke and Aftermath
According to page 123 in “Medical management of political patients: the case of Dwight D. Eisenhower“:
While speaking to his secretary on November 25, 1957, Eisenhower found he could not complete his sentences. When examined he had neither motor nor sensory impairment. The diagnosis was occlusion of the left middle cerebral artery. Eisenhower, who was 67 years old and had three years remaining in his second term of office, was already taking coumadin at this time.
After remaining in seclusion for 3 days, Eisenhower returned to work, his speech not yet back to normal. To some, the press coverage of his difficulties in this period seemed “unnecessarily savage and sadistic,” since some reporters seemed to be counting the number of goofs Eisenhower made during a press conference. But unlike the 1955 heart attack and the 1956 abdominal operation, the 1957 stroke occurred at a time when important presidential meetings were scheduled.
His feelings wavered when it came to his aphasia, both laughing it off and expressing frustration (p 124):
His reactions to his speech difficulties were variable. Among friends he would occasionally laugh off his mistakes, but on one occasion, when he was having difficulty speaking, he said with effort “There’s nothing the matter with me, I’m perfectly all right.”
Of course he also knew he wasn’t “perfectly all right” and made arrangements with Vice President Nixon on what would happen if he couldn’t do his duties as President. This idea became the basis of the 25th Amendment: “If a president dies or resigns, the vice president takes over and then he appoints a new vice president.”
Are you surprised to learn that Eisenhower experienced aphasia while in office?
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