Rosalynn Carter’s dementia diagnosis brings awareness to her mental health advocacy

Rosalynn Carter has spent nearly four decades promoting research and discussion about brain health.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 7:11 PM EDT
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PLAINS, Ga. (WALB) - The news of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s battle with dementia has sparked discussion about how to treat those who have the disease.

Rosalynn Carter has spent nearly four decades promoting research and discussion about brain health.

“We really applaud the Carter family for their transparency because one thing that we often find with mental illness, or brain health or dementia, we often find that people suffer in silence,” Leslie Holland, marketing and comminutions director for Alzheimer’s Association, said.

“Well wishes to sister Rosalynn Carter,” said Ouida Reynolds, a visitor of Plains.

Carter’s impacts can be felt all across Plains, even when you’re driving into it. There is a sculpture going into town dedicated to Rosalynn last year for her efforts to help save pollinators. In addition to promoting pollinators, Rosalynn has promoted greater access to caregiving in South Georgia.

“There are 53 million people that serve as caregivers. Everything from intellectual and developmental disability, to veterans who are returning from conflict, to individuals who are struggling with dementia,” Jennifer Olsen, the CEO for the Rosalynn Carter Institute For Caregivers, said.

Rosalynn Carter's passion has impacted people for nearly 35 years.
Rosalynn Carter's passion has impacted people for nearly 35 years.(WALB)

Through the caregiving center, 25 students will get 2023 scholarships to pursue caregiving. An annual symposium is held at the Carter Center where topics like mental illness in people of all ages and financing those resources are discussed.

“Mrs. Carter dedicates so much work and dedicates her life to this cause. That’s a huge thing, but then as a family is so transparent about the diagnosis, I think that is that is going to spur conversations,” Holland said.

Holland stresses that the sooner you can identify symptoms of dementia, the better. She says as early as 45, you should ask your doctor for a cognitive test. If anything, she says it’s a baseline for future years. “We are seeing so many people are being diagnosed with dementia and all forms much earlier.”

Holland says significant progress is being made in treatments for early-onset dementia. Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers continues to make progress in treatment too.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, President Biden announced the largest executive order ever focused on care. Childcare, caregiving and the paid care workforce,” Olsen said.

There are clear signs to look for with Alzheimer’s that isn’t just being old, according to Holland.

- Challenges and problem-solving

- Confusion with time and place

- Problems with visual depth perception and spatial relationships

- Behavioral changes

- Previously easy tasks become difficult or impossible

Holland thinks COVID isolation has had an impact on case numbers. She says staying social and active are ways to keep the brain sharp and delay the disease. She also says the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be really good for brain health.

To find support if you have or know someone with Alzheimer’s, click here.