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Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Has Dementia

Family shares news in effort to decrease stigma, increase ‘important conversations’

spinner image Former first lady Rosalynn Carter speaks  during the opening ceremony for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, inside the University of Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter speaks next to her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, during the opening ceremony for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, inside the University of Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind.
Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, 95, has dementia, the Carter family announced on May 30. Dementia, which is not a disease but rather a cluster of symptoms that impact thinking and memory skills severely enough to interfere with daily life, affects about 1 in 10 older Americans.

Carter, the wife of former President Jimmy Carter and a resident of Plains, Georgia, is the founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. She has also been a leading mental health advocate for much of her life, working to improve access to care and decrease stigma.

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“We recognize, as she did more than half a century ago, that stigma is often a barrier that keeps individuals and their families from seeking and getting much-needed support. We hope sharing our family's news will increase important conversations at kitchen tables and in doctor’s offices around the country,” a statement from the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization cofounded by Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, said. The statement did not indicate when Rosalynn Carter was diagnosed or what type of dementia she may have.

An analysis of a 2018 survey published in JAMA Neurology found that despite widespread worry about developing dementia, only about 5 percent of older adults had discussed dementia prevention with their doctor. This reluctance comes despite the fact that certain lifestyle habits and behaviors may help decrease one’s risk of developing dementia or slow its progression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Separate research from AARP found that stigma can be a significant barrier in keeping patients from bringing up dementia concerns with their health care providers.

Early symptoms of dementia might include confusion about time and place and routine loss of interest in activities. Difficulty performing everyday tasks, like paying the bills or running errands, can also be a warning sign.

While there is no cure for dementia, some drug and non-drug therapies can help manage symptoms. There are also resources for caregivers who are helping loved ones navigate a dementia diagnosis.

Earlier this year, the Carter Center announced that Jimmy Carter, who married Rosalynn in 1946, had begun receiving hospice care. The Carter Center says Rosalynn Carter “continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones.”

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