Former Sen. William Proxmire, the government gadfly who handed out Golden Fleece awards to spotlight what he considered bad uses of taxpayer money, has Alzheimer's disease, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday.

The former Democratic senator, who retired in 1989 after 31 years in office, told the newspaper last week that he has been losing his memory."I suppose what I have can be called Alzheimer's disease, although I'm not as bad as that sounds," said Proxmire, who turns 83 next November.

His relatives said Alzheimer's, the same degenerative disorder of the brain that former President Reagan has, was diagnosed about three years ago. Proxmire's son, Ted, a stockbroker in Washington, said his father still recognizes members of the family.

The former senator said he still reads a lot but can no longer go on the lecture circuit or write his newspaper column.

"Because I've lost my memory, I can't do anything serious or charge money for anything I do, like I used to," he told the Journal Sentinel.

His wife, Ellen, said he is under the care of a geriatric psychiatrist and takes medication, the anti-depressant Zoloft and a cognitive enhancer, Aricept.

She said the disease is hard on families "but the thing is, it's gradual."