Tony Bennett's Wife Reveals the First Sign He Had Alzheimer's
The singer and his family just shared that he's been battling the disease for years.
On Feb. 1, Tony Bennett and his family shared, for the first time, that the 94-year-old singer has been living with Alzheimer's disease. Bennett was diagnosed in 2016, though the choice was made to keep his condition private until now. In a handful of new interviews, his wife, Susan Benedetto, 50, gave fans some insight into Bennett's status, revealing the first signs they had of his cognitive issues as well as the activity that's helped slow the progression of the disease. Read on for details, and for more early detection information, How Well You Do This One Thing Predicts Your Alzheimer's Risk, Study Says.
Tony Bennett's wife explained when they first suspected that he might have Alzheimer's.
Speaking with CBS This Morning, Benedetto remembered the first inkling that Bennett might be showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
"We came home one night after the show and he says, 'Susan, I can't remember the musicians' names,'" Benedetto told Gayle King. She also said that her husband knew then that he was experiencing something more serious than the forgetfulness that can sometimes come with age. "I just chalked it up to him being, at the time, late 80s, we forget things," she continued. "And he said, 'No, no, this isn't right.'"
The singer was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's over four years ago. And he's just now going public with his struggles with the progressive disease for the first time.
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She also shared why Bennett wanted to keep his diagnosis private.
"He always likes to say he's in the business of making people feel good," Benedetto told King. "And so he never wanted the audience to know if he had a problem. But obviously, as things have progressed, it becomes more and more obvious when you interact with Tony that there's something up. And so it just seemed that now was the right time."
The news first broke in a new, in-depth profile of Bennett in AARP the Magazine, which chronicles his past few years in detail, as he and his caregivers and family have navigated his condition. And for more symptoms to look out for yourself, these are the Early Signs of Alzheimer's Everyone Over 40 Should Know.
Bennett's Alzheimer's case has been relatively mild.
Bennett fortunately has not experienced the entire breadth of Alzheimer's symptoms. Benedetto told AARP that he still recognizes his family members, though he can have trouble identifying everyday objects or places.
As of now, Bennett's case remains on the milder side. "He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do," Bennett's neurologist Gayatri Devi, MD, told AARP. "He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more severe symptoms of the disease include "disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking." And for more on cognitive illnesses, check out Habits That Reduce Your Risk of Dementia After 40.
Bennett's condition was apparent as he recorded a new album with Lady Gaga.
In 2014, Bennett collaborated with Lady Gaga on an album of duets called Cheek to Cheek. The AARP profile revealed that they've been working on a follow-up album for the past few years. The article notes that in footage of the recording of the new album, Lady Gaga "keeps her utterances [to Bennett] short and simple," as experts recommend when engaging with someone with Alzheimer's. Though Bennett's voice was still up to the task of making an album, his cognitive deterioration visibly upset his duet partner. Author John Colapinto wrote:
"The pain and sadness in Gaga's face is clear at such moments—but never more so than in an extraordinarily moving sequence in which Tony (a man she calls 'an incredible mentor, and friend, and father figure') sings a solo passage of a love song. Gaga looks on, from behind her mic, her smile breaking into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs."
And for more on the latest about Gaga, check out Garth Brooks Revealed How Lady Gaga "Saved" Him at the Inauguration.
Performing and working has helped slow the progression of Bennett's disease.
While it probably wouldn't be recommended for a more physically debilitating condition, Bennett was "strongly encouraged" to keep working after his diagnosis, AARP reports. That's because his neurologist and other Alzheimer's experts have seen the positive impact music and singing can have on patients, perhaps because it leverages the connection between emotion and memory. "It kept him on his toes and also stimulated his brain in a significant way," Devi said of Bennett keeping up his performance schedule.
Sadly, COVID has cut off that outlet for Bennett, and his doctor told AARP the downturn has been noticeable. "This has been a real blow from a cognitive perspective. His memory, prior to the pandemic, was so much better," Devi said. "And he's not alone. So many of my patients are negatively affected by the isolation, the inability to do the things that matter to them. For someone like Tony Bennett, the big high he gets from performing was very important."
To stay active, part of Bennett's treatment plan includes twice weekly rehearsals with his pianist, in which he transforms, as his wife puts it, into "the old Tony."
Though live music has not been available to him over the last year, Bennett's wife told CBS This Morning that there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about the coming years. "According to his doctor, there's no reason to think that he will drastically decline," she said. And for more celebrities who've been honest about their health struggles, check out 20 Celebrities Who Have Spoken About Their Depression.