The family of former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that his wife, Rosalynn Carter, has been diagnosed with dementia, according to a statement obtained by WSB-TV.
“She continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones,” the statement, released by the family’s Carter Center, said.
“One in 10 older Americans have dementia, a condition that affects overall mental health. 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.”
Carter, 95, made advocating for mental health a priority for decades beginning in 1970, when her husband was running for governor of Georgia.
“I want my mental health work to carry on even after there is no more stigma, which I’m not sure will come in my lifetime, but I hope it will,” she has said, according to WSB. “I wanted to take mental illnesses and emotional disorders out of the closet, to let people know it is all right to admit having a problem without the fear of being called crazy.”
Carter served as honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health in 1977 and, two years later, became the first sitting U.S. first lady to address the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly to talk about the commission’s findings. Her work contributed to the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which was aimed at protecting people with mental illness from discrimination.
In 1991, Carter established the Carter Center Mental Health Program. Seven years later, she wrote the book “Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers.” In November 2000, she was awarded the U.S. Public Health Service’s highest award, the Surgeon General’s Medallion.
The former first lady’s diagnosis was announced months after President Carter, 98, entered hospice care.
“As the founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, 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,” family members said in Tuesday’s statement. “The universality of caregiving is clear in our family, and we are experiencing the joy and the challenges of this journey.
“We do not expect to comment further and ask for understanding for our family and for everyone across the country serving in a caregiver role.”
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