September 30, 2023 4:43 pm

Local News

Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady and Lifelong Mental Health Advocate, Diagnosed With Dementia

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by Aaleah McConnell, Georgia Recorder

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has been diagnosed with dementia, the Carter family announced through the Carter Center Tuesday. 

In a written statement, the family did not share details, such as exactly when Rosalynn Carter was diagnosed or what type of dementia she was diagnosed with. But the letter did point out that one in 10 older Americans have this disease, which affects mental health. 

The prevalence of mental illnesses among Americans is what prompted Rosalynn Carter’s decades-long crusade for mental health reform from the time she stepped into the role of First Lady of Georgia and extending far beyond President Jimmy Carter’s term in the White House.

During her husband’s time as president, Rosalynn Carter helped pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. And in 1982, following her husband’s presidential term, the couple founded the Carter Center in Atlanta, which works to broker peace and improve health internationally. 

For decades, the center has held the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, which has brought together leaders from mental health organizations nationwide to discuss topics such as mental illness among the elderly, funding for mental health services and treating behavioral health the same as physical care.

The first lady’s work has established her as a leading force in the field of mental health care.

The news of Rosalynn Carter’s diagnosis comes three months after her husband entered at-home hospice care. But the family said in their statement that they hope sharing the news about her condition will help others. 

“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,” the family wrote. 

The family also said that they will not answer any further questions at this time but said the former first lady is living happily at home in Plains with her husband and enjoying visits from loved ones. 

“Mrs. Carter often noted that there are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers; those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers,” the Carter family wrote. “The universality of caregiving is clear in our family, and we are experiencing the joy and the challenges of this journey.”

This story was written by Aaleah McConnell, a reporting intern at the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.

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