Celebrity Health

CNN's Founder Ted Turner Reveals Dementia Diagnosis

With CBS's This Morning, CNN's founder Ted Turner reveals his Lewy Body Dementia diagnosis. Learn about what he thinks of his disease.

CNN's Founder Ted Turner Reveals Dementia Diagnosis

Photo: Ted Turner/CBS This Morning

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Ted Turner, CNN Founder casually said that he has been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. "It's a mild case of what people have as Alzheimer's. It's similar to that. But not nearly as bad. Alzheimer's is fatal,"  Turner said to Ted Koppel from his 113,000-acre ranch. "Thank goodness I don't have that."

At first look, it doesn’t sound like Turner has researched his disease. Does Turner have any idea of what Lewy body dementia is – or, perhaps he is just kidding himself? 

What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

There is no cure for Lewy body dementia. It is not a form of Alzheimer’s disease, however, it is a different form of dementia. Lewy body dementia has damaging signs and symptoms, and destroys brain cells. It's a progressive disorder that has symptoms that are similar and worse than Alzheimer's. You lose control over a little bit of your life every day the disease progresses.

Lewy body dementia is not rare, but this disease is not as known as Alzheimer’s. This disease causes disorientation and memory loss for approximately 1.4 million patients in the United States. Because it has similar symptoms to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, the disease is often misdiagnosed.

Scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered the disease while researching Parkinson’s disease. Like Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia causes a severe disruption in normal brain functions. Lewy body dementia occurs when abnormal proteins or Lewy Body proteins create a change in the ordinary operation of the brain. These proteins are in the brain stem and are responsible for depleting dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When dopamine is depleted, disruptions cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease or loss of motor control.

Lewy body proteins move throughout the brain to the cerebral cortex. Once in the cortex, the Lewy bodies reduce a chemical called acetylcholine. This damage results in changes in behavior, thinking, and perception.

Most patients do not realize the severity of Lewy body dementia, and doctors are somewhat puzzled about the disease.

Ted Turner’s Resolve: To Raise Awareness

Turner knows he is sick, and he is now on a mission to raise awareness of Lewy body dementia. He writes his own story on his laptop, but his right hand is unable to type. Lewy body dementia can present with Parkinson-like symptoms on top of the cognition loss.

Turner writes, “Lewy body disease is an umbrella term which covers Lewy body dementia, which I have. It's been two years since I was diagnosed. I guess you would say I am in early stages and still highly functional.”

Turner goes on to describe Lewy body dementia by discussing how it can be fatal 5 to 8 years after an official diagnosis. The Mayo Clinic says this, and so does many other sources.

Turner is a columnist for AL.om, and he writes about Lewy body dementia frequently on this site as well as on his music blog: www.myvinylcountdown.com. Turner knows that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s’ patients have reduced lifespans, but he also knows that those diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia have even shorter lifespans.

In his column, Turner reiterates, “Mayo Clinic says this: Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease dementia. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory, and movement (motor control)."

Ted Turner’s Views His Diagnosis As His New Challenge

Ted Turner loves a challenge. He has assembled world series-winning baseball teams, sailed in America’s Cup races, transformed a billboard business into a global media empire, and urges environmental changes around the globe.

Lewy body dementia is Ted Turner’s new challenge. It is perhaps the most devastating and challenging of all his tests. Turner also has the difficulty balancing and his muscles are becoming rigid. Turner is often forgetful and exhausted, and it's making his co-workers and companions worried. Many thought he was invincible and would always be a vibrant and healthy mogul. They were wrong.

“Ted’s always been larger than life,” Steve Stahl, the former CNN director of technical operations who has known Turner since 1984, said. “He had big ideas. He was several steps ahead of everybody else.”

Turner has good days and bad days, but his snappy spirit remains unbroken, and his colleagues still admire him.

Life will be different for him in the future, and his strong voice may be silenced, but his family and co-workers predict he will approach Lewy body dementia as he has approached everything in his life – with spirit and fight.

“Ted Turner’s a fighter,” said Barbara Pyle, a former vice president of environmental policy for Turner who began working for him 40 years ago. They maintain a close friendship.“Whatever’s going on with him he’s going to fight it and win," she said. "He has his entire life.”

Ted Turner Is a Fighter, and Dementia Is No Different

Turner’s first challenge came when he created the first-of-its-kind cable television station in the 1970s. Turned filled his television station with old movies, baseball games, and reruns. He broadcasted the Atlanta Braves baseball team daily.

Turner looked for something that would bring watchers 24-hour television. He wanted a sports station but settled on a news format.  He launched the Cable News Network or CNN in 1980. His television service plus his sports station, featuring wrestling, WTBS lived in the same old Atlanta mansion. The television station was successful, even though reporters and television staff could hear wrestler’s bodies hitting the mats on the floor above them.

Turner fought for CNN, through low budgets and criticism, and by the 1990s, CNN had more than 20 bureaus and launched other new networks including Headline News and CNN International. CNN was the first station to broadcast images of missile fire and correspondences wearing gas masks during the Deseret Storm.

Ted Turner lost control of his media empire after several mergers and was forced out of the company he developed and loved. He lost that battle, but continues to fight other battles including the one that is taking away his memory.

Life will be difficult for Ted Turner as he faces a disease that will silence him and cause him a loss of self. Yet, those who work with him know that he will approach Lewy body dementia on his terms.