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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter has dementia, her family says

The former first lady Rosalynn Carter, pictured in 2019, was a dedicated champion of mental health care, working tirelessly to de-stigmatize mental health illness.
Ron Harris
/
AP
The former first lady Rosalynn Carter, pictured in 2019, was a dedicated champion of mental health care, working tirelessly to de-stigmatize mental health illness.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime advocate for mental health care, has been diagnosed with dementia, her family revealed on Tuesday.

"She continues to live happily at home with her husband," the family said in a statement posted by The Carter Center.

The announcement comes less than four months after former President Jimmy Carter entered hospice care at the couple's home in Plains, Ga., following several stints in and out of the hospital.

At 98, he is the longest-living president. The couple served in the White House from 1977 to 1981. Together they launched The Carter Center in Atlanta in 1982 with the goal of resolving conflicts around the world, promoting freedom and democracy and improving health.

But even before the center opened its doors, the family noted that Rosalynn, who is now 95, had begun her work to de-stigmatize mental health illness.

"First in the Georgia Governor's Mansion, then in the White House, and later at The Carter Center, she urged improved access to care and decreased stigma about issues surrounding mental health," they said.

Former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, pictured in 1978, share the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history.
Ira Schwarz / AP
/
AP
Former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, pictured in 1978, share the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history.

In her 1994 book, Helping Yourself Help Others: A book for caregivers, she wrote about the loneliness, trauma and suffering that caregivers often endure. By providing tips on best practices amassed through several national surveys, she said, she hoped to also provide some relief.

"I believe one of the most important missions I can fulfill as a former first lady is to focus attention on you — the family caregiver," she wrote.

"The purpose of this book is to encourage you, empathize with you and advocate for your special needs. ... Of course, I hope this book will help you provide better care, but not only that; I also hope it will also help you have an easier and more enjoyable life."

The Carters, who met when he was 3 and she was a day old, share the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history. They celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary on July 7, 2022. Together they have four children, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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