George H.W. Bush in Intensive Care

George H. W. Bush has been in Houston hospital since Thanksgiving.

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Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush arrive for the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush arrive for the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Friends of former President George H.W. Bush are worried that his health may be in a dangerous decline.

Bush, 88, is in the intensive care unit of a Houston hospital, where he was admitted November 23. He spent Christmas at the hospital and hasn't been able to shake off a cough, and, more recently, a fever. Doctors have placed him on a liquid diet so he gets the nutrients he needs and can rebuild his strength, family friends say.

[MORE: Painful Cough Keeps H.W. Hospitalized]

One concern, they add, is that Bush may contract pneumonia, which can lead to very serious complications in people his age.

"Following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever, President Bush was admitted to the intensive care unit at Methodist Hospital on Sunday, where he remains in guarded condition," Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath explained in a public statement. McGrath said Bush's doctors are "cautiously optimistic about the current course of treatment."

The former president, who served one term from 1989-1993, was described by McGrath as "alert and conversing with the medical staff, and is surrounded by family." His wife Barbara has remained with him, and he has had visits from his sons, former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, and daughter Doro.

Bush has been using a wheelchair in recent months because he has a form of Parkinson's Disease, which has damaged his legs.

[PHOTOS: Obama Visits Military Base for Christmas]

On a personal note, my wife Barclay and I had dinner with George, Barbara, and Doro Bush during an Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 last summer. (I had covered his successful 1988 campaign and his presidency for U.S. News.) He seemed a much weaker version of his once-vigorous self but remained in good spirits. He was an active presence on the ship, dining in one of the Queen Mary 2's restaurants reserved for top customers and elite passengers, and attending the evening entertainment shows, where he was always greeted with an ovation. Friends say his health has deteriorated since then.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.