In a letter released today, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 88, announced that she has been diagnosed with dementia, likely Alzheimer's, and is "no longer able to participate in public life."
Justice O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, and she retired in 2005 to spend more time with her husband, John O'Connor, who lived with Alzheimer's for close to 20 years. Alzheimer's disease affects more than 5 million Americans, and is the most common cause of dementia, a broad term used to define memory loss and cognitive abilities that interfere with daily life, according to the Alzheimer's Association. An estimated 60-80% of dementia cases are Alzheimer's.
Justice O'Connor has been both a caregiver and an advocate for Alzheimer's disease, and "helped to position Alzheimer’s as a national priority that demands action from our nation’s policymakers," according to a statement from the Alzheimer's Association. She even testified twice before Congress to help enact policies to protect the needs of people living with dementia and their caregivers.
Alzheimer's is what's considered a "progressive disease," which means that the symptoms of dementia worsen over time, according to the Alzheimer's Association. People with Alzheimer's experience memory loss, and may not be able to converse with others if it progresses. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but treatment can help improve people's quality of life. On average, people with Alzheimer's can live eight years until their symptoms become apparent to others.
In her letter, Justice O'Connor said that she hopes young people understand our country's Constitution and participate actively in politics. She also urged people to work collaboratively in communities and government "to solve problems, putting country and the common good above party and self-interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable."
Going forward, Justice O'Connor will continue to live with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. "While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished by gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life," she wrote.