Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady of the United States and a lifelong mental health advocate, has been diagnosed with dementia, according to an announcement made by the Carter family on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. At the age of 95, she resides with her husband, Jimmy Carter, the 98-year-old 39th president who has been in hospice care since February, in their home in Plains, Georgia.
Known to many as “the Steel Magnolia,” Rosalynn Carter has been a prominent and influential figure in both local and national politics, her steadfast resolve earning her a reputation as one of the most politically engaged first ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt. In her various roles—from the Georgia governor’s mansion to the White House, and later at the Carter Center—she has championed improved access to care and advocated for the decrease of stigma surrounding mental health.
Her diagnosis comes three months after her husband, the longest-living president in the U.S. history, decided to terminate medical intervention and live out his remaining days at their home. The Carter Center, a private, not-for-profit institution founded by the couple in 1982, shared in a statement that Mrs. Carter “continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones.”
Recognized as a tireless advocate for mental health, the Carters’ statement acknowledged Rosalynn’s persistent efforts: “Mrs. Carter has been the nation’s leading mental health advocate for much of her life.” Her advocacy has been driven by the belief that stigma often presents a barrier that prevents individuals and their families from seeking and receiving essential support.
As the founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, she has often highlighted 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.” This assertion underlines the universality of caregiving—a reality that is now more apparent than ever within the Carter family.
The family noted the prevalence of dementia among older Americans, with one in 10 individuals being affected by this condition that impacts overall mental health. They expressed hope that sharing their personal news will spur important discussions about dementia and mental health support across households and medical practices throughout the country.
Rosalynn Carter’s influence has been profound both during and following her tenure as the first lady. Having co-founded the Carter Center with her husband after leaving the White House, she has remained active in the organization’s initiatives, particularly those related to mental health programs.
Rosalynn first met Jimmy Carter when she was a newborn and he was 3 years old—their parents were close friends and neighbors. Their bond has been strong and enduring, with President Carter often sharing, “The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn.” The couple, now in their nineties, celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary in July 2022. They have four children, 12 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
The Carter family requested understanding and respect for their privacy at this time, while emphasizing their deep connection to the nationwide community of caregivers. As they navigate the joy and challenges of their journey, they hope to amplify the critical dialogue about mental health and caregiving.
Rosalynn Carter’s dementia diagnosis is a reminder of her tireless advocacy for mental health and caregiving, and underscores the impact of her work that has helped bring these critical issues into the national conversation.