ASPEN, CO - JUNE 23: Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter speaks with President Jimmy Carter and Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson during the McCloskey Speaker Series on June 23, 2015 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter speaks at a 2015 event. (Photo by Leigh Vogel / Getty Images)

Sharing the news that former first lady Rosalynn Carter has dementia will “increase important conversations at kitchen tables and in doctor’s offices around the country,” the Carter family hoped in a statement released Tuesday.

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, founded by the former first lady, who is 95, praised her and her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, for “advancing important conversations about caregiving and mental health.”

“Before Mrs. Carter elevated these issues to the national consciousness, they went largely unnoticed,” a statement from RCI read. “Today, both issues are talked about around kitchen tables, in board rooms, and in the halls of Congress.”

As the founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, the former first lady said that there are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers, the center noted.

Rosalynn Carter has been an advocate for mental health through her time in the Georgia governor’s mansion, the White House and The Carter Center, a nonprofit she founded with her husband to advance peace and health worldwide, her family noted in its statement. ​​”She urged improved access to care and decreased stigma about issues surrounding mental health,” the Carter family said.

“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,” the Alzheimer’s Association said in a statement about Carter’s diagnosis. “Today’s announcement will help increase awareness and reduce stigma for a condition affecting one in three seniors over the age of 85.”

The association says that the nation is facing an “Alzheimer’s crisis” as the number of older adults in whom the disease is diagnosed continues to increase amid a shortage of direct care workers.

Thirty-four percent of assisted living residents had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia as of 2018, according to a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Overall, an estimated 6.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia today, a figure projected to reach 7.2 million by 2025 and 13.8 million by 2060, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated in its 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, released in March. And although long-term care providers struggle to meet the care needs of today’s memory care residents, the industry is projected to need an additional 1.2 million direct care workers by 2030, making direct care workers needed more than any other single occupation in the country, the association said.

In November, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers provided recommendations to help identify priorities within the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers under the RAISE Family Caregiver Act. The RCI also indicated that it intended to work with employers to develop workplace supports and policies to help reduce professional caregiver stressors and keep paid caregivers in the workforce.

“The universality of caregiving is clear in our family, and we are experiencing the joy and the challenges of this journey,” the first lady’s family said Tuesday in its statement. “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 about the former first lady comes a little more than three months after an announcement that her husband had entered hospice care. Her family said that Rosalynn Carter “continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains [GA] and visits with loved ones.”