It was revealed this week that Former President Jimmy Carter’s wife Rosalynn has dementia.
The Carter Center said the 95-year-old former first lady ‘continues to live happily’ with her husband and is ‘enjoying spring’ and ‘visits with loved ones.’
Rosalynn has been married to Carter, 98 – the longest-living president – for 76 years, and they have been together at home since February, when he announced he would forgo further medical intervention after a series of hospital stays.
No further details were released about her condition, and the Carter Center was not expected to release further information.
Last week, their grandson Jason said the couple were in ‘good spirits’, having ice cream together as they welcomed family members into their modest Plains home.
The Carter Center said the 95-year-old former first lady ‘continues to live happily’ with her husband and is ‘enjoying spring’ and ‘visits with loved ones’. The pair are pictured at the funeral of President George H.W. Bush in 2018
At the age of 98 he together with his wife Rosalynn, 95, continue to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, including regular servings of his favorite ice cream according to Jason Carter, his grandson. The couple are pictured in 2018 at their home in Plains, Georgia
Dementia is a group of diseases that mark progressive and permanent cognitive decline. It results in difficulty thinking, remembering, and reasoning, to the point of interfering with basic day-to-day functions and activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease typically develops later in life, with 73 percent of patients diagnosed after age 75.
Aging is the most significant risk factor for dementia due to brain damage that can take years or decades to become noticeable enough for symptoms to develop.
‘Our brains start aging from our early 20s,’ Hana Burianova, a neuroscientist at Bournemouth University in the UK, told MailOnline.
‘Once they stop developing, they begin to age, which means it’s losing connections between different parts.
However, the brain is plastic and if we’re active and social, if we exercise and eat a healthy diet we can make new connections right up until old age.
‘But when the brain is pathologically aging, the neurons – which transmit messages to other parts of the brain – are dying. This neuron death is what happens with Alzheimer’s.’
People are also more susceptible as they age because they are more likely to develop health conditions that can increase their risk, such as high blood pressure, weaker immune system, damaged blood vessels in the brain, and stroke.
About 5 in every 100 people in the U.S. will have developed dementia between the ages of 65 and 74. The risk increases with age; about one third of those 85 and older will have dementia.
This is more than six million Americans. In the United Kingdom, nearly one million Britons have the condition.
So what are the memory and behavior changes that are cause for concern? Ms Burianova reveals the tell-tale signs you should never ignore.
What is dementia?
A global concern
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
How many people are affected?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
Is there a cure?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
One of the hallmarks of early dementia is loss of memory. But how can you tell if an older loved one is just being forgetful or if there’s something more concerning at work?
‘We know from research that older adults, aged 65-plus, will lose some detail in autobiographical memory, but their memory for facts and words is better than younger people,’ Ms Burianova said.
And often much of the typical ‘forgetfulness’ of otherwise healthy older people might be because they’re not paying attention in the first place.
‘They may not be “encoding” the information, for instance perhaps they were told a story at a party but they were distracted,’ she said.
‘The difference between a brain that’s aging healthily, and pathological degeneration is the progressive dying of neurons. The changes will occur gradually.’
The death of these neurons typically takes place in the parts of the brain involved in memory such as the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus.
Someone will forget conversations they just had, or they may get lost somewhere they know well, or forget the route home, despite doing it countless times before.
‘Anyone can forget to turn off the stove, but with someone with Alzheimer’s, it keeps happening,’ Ms Burianova said.
Most of us are all too familiar with loved ones who’ve been telling the same stories for years.
However, someone with dementia will repeat the same information over and over again often in a short space of time.
‘We all tell stories several times, especially to our partners. There might be a cue that reminds us, and that’s the trigger for our retrieval,’ Ms Burianova said.
‘But someone with Alzheimer’s will repeat something three times in a row. It’s a symptom of their short term memory loss.’
Sudden Changes in Mood
If your otherwise level loved one suddenly becomes anxious or depressed, it could be more than a mid-life crisis.
‘Someone will try to find out why their beloved is suffering from mental health issues, but it’s more than that – it’s because part of the brain is deteriorating,’ Ms Burianova said.
‘Picture the brain as a big net and part of the net starts being broken, then the rest of the net starts to rip. Depending on where that process starts, it will govern the symptoms.
They Can’t Speak
If a previously fluent speaker suddenly starts tripping over their words, take caution.
They might have aphasia, where a person has difficulty with speech and understanding language, which can be caused by some types of dementia.
‘There is an area in the frontal lobe which has to do with the initiation of language,’ Ms Burianova said.
‘You might be telling them something and you realize they don’t understand. Or they start stuttering or stumble as they try to produce language.’
If your normally quiet and modest grandmother starts telling crude jokes, there may be a serious reason for it.
‘Depending on what kind of dementia you have, your personality can change once it starts affecting your prefrontal cortex,’ Ms Burianova said.
‘There can be a lot of fear or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), you can become super obsessive and some people become disinhibited.
‘Suddenly your grandma starts making lewd remarks to men on the street, or they start taking off their clothes.
‘There could be aggression too, but that could be because they’re afraid of their environment and feel extremely vulnerable.’