Former first lady Rosalynn Carter diagnosed with dementia

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned that former first lady Rosalynn Carter has been diagnosed with dementia.

In a statement from the Carter Center, it said:

“The Carter family is sharing that former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has dementia. She continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones.

“Mrs. Carter has been the nation’s leading mental health advocate for much of her life. 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. 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.

“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. 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.”

The news comes just months after the Carter Center announced that former President Jimmy Carter had started hospice care.

As first lady, Carter, now 95, made it her priority to advocate for mental health.

“With my mental health program, I could get the attention of Congress, of people who made the decisions. I was not always pleased with their reactions to my requests, but at least focused attention on the issue, and that was good,” Carter said.

That work continued even after the Carters left the White House.


“When we came home from the White House, I knew I wanted to continue that work,” Carter said. “To me, one of the best things that has happened in my mental health work is a program to educate journalists about mental health issues. We call it mental health fellowships for journalists.”

Carter played a key role in the passage of a federal law requiring insurance to pay for mental health treatment on par with physical illnesses.

“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,” Carter said. “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 even took her push to recognize mental health to the Medical Society of the World Health Organization in May 1979, becoming the first sitting first lady to address members of the organization. She advocated the Mental Health Systems Act, which was signed into law the next year.

“It was a groundbreaking event as a first lady and groundbreaking for mental health, because on that day she stated that health is a human right and that you cannot have true health without recognizing mental health as a crucial component,” grandson Jason Carter said in 2021 during a virtual ceremony of the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly, where Carter was presented with an award for Global Health.

Shortly after the announcement, Channel 2′s Richard Elliot spoke one-on-one with the Carter Center’s CEO, Paige Alexander, about Mrs. Carter’s legacy especially her advocacy for mental health.

“Her issue has always been about destigmatizing mental health, and if COVID did one thing, it really explained to us all what mental health is about,” Alexander said.

Alexander said even Tuesday’s announcement about Carter’s dementia diagnosis was done to help get others talking.

“It has brought this conversation into the mainstream, and that’s what today’s announcement is about as well, that people can have these conversations at the kitchen table, with their doctors and not be afraid to recognize that there’s an importance in addressing mental health.”

In a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp, he said:

“Marty, the girls, and I ask all Georgians to join us in praying for the health and comfort of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Throughout her many years of service, Mrs. Carter has been a champion for mental healthcare and worked to promote the well-being of those affected by these issues, along with their caregivers. As she and her family face this challenge, we know she will do so with the same strength and vigor she has shown in other areas of life. Our thoughts are with the entire Carter family during this time.”

The Alzheimer’s Association also released a statement, saying:

“The Alzheimer’s Association expresses our deepest appreciation to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and her family for sharing her diagnosis of dementia. The news of her diagnosis is devastating for people around the world, but her family’s transparency will also be meaningful for millions who are all too familiar with the crushing realities of other forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

“Throughout her life, Ms. Carter has been a leader in promoting our nation’s caregivers. Through her Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, she provided resources and support to improve the health and wellbeing of unpaid caregivers including a focus on dementia caregivers.

“The Alzheimer’s Association applauds Ms. Carter and her family’s transparency with her diagnosis; it is such a powerful way to educate about medical conditions.”

President and Mrs. Carter are the longest-ever married presidential couple, having wed in 1946.

As the Carter Center’s statement said, Mrs. Carter is “at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones.”