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Jack Hanna’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point he no longer recognizes most family members

<i>Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network</i><br/>Suzi Hanna tries to rehearse with her husband
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network
Suzi Hanna tries to rehearse with her husband

By Lisa Respers France, CNN

(CNN) — Jack Hanna and his family are in the midst of a “long goodbye.”

The former zookeeper, beloved animal expert and television personality is now living with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, which his family spoke about in a story published Wednesday by the Columbus Dispatch.

His disease has progressed to the point he longer recognizes most family members, they shared.

It was announced in 2021 that Hanna was retiring from public life.

“Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease,” Hanna’s family wrote in a statement posted to his verified Twitter account at the time.

“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated,” the statement read. “Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed alongside him.”

“Jungle” Jack Hanna and his animals became a staple on late-night and daytime TV, thanks to his many appearances on shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Late night with David Letterman” and “Today.”

Those appearances landed Hanna his own shows, including” Animal Adventures,” “Into the Wild” and “Wild Countdown.”

He retired from serving as director and then director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in December 2020 after 42 years.

The new Columbus Dispatch article states that Hanna now spends his time at home in Bigfork, Montana, where he suns on their deck and asks multiple times a day whether his wife Suzi, with whom he’s been with for 54 years, has fed the family dog, Brassy.

There are also moments of frustration familiar to those who are living with dementia, but Suzi Hanna says her husband has not totally left them.

“My husband is still in there somewhere,” his wife is quoted as saying. “There are still those sweet, tender moments — you know, pieces of him that made me and the rest of the world fall in love with him. It’s hard. Real hard some days. But he took care of me all those years, and so it’s my turn to take care of him.”

Hanna’s family said they are sharing their story now because “they want other families to know they are not alone when the struggle with Alzheimer’s feels overwhelming.

“If this helps even one other family, it’s more than worth sharing dad’s story,” Hanna’s eldest daughter, Kathaleen, said. “He spent a lifetime helping everyone he could. He will never know it or understand it, but he is still doing it now.”

“The river, the sun, Brassy, our walks. … That’s what we have left,” Suzi Hanna told the publication. “The Jack people knew isn’t here anymore, but pieces of my husband are. And I’m going to hang onto them for as long as I can.”

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