Understanding “The Long Goodbye”

Difficult diagnosis: former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has dementia
Rosalynn Carter Carter Center - woman in white shirt with a soft smlie at the camera

Rosalynn Carter: photo The Carter Center

When the Carter Center announced that former first lady Rosalynn Carter had been diagnosed with dementia, a sense of melancholy filled the air. Countless people have heard similar news about a relative or dear friend and know firsthand how difficult it is to see their loved one slip away a little more each day.

While Mrs. Carter’s diagnosis was not specified, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes referred to as “the long goodbye,” the disease can seem extra cruel when the person is physically okay, but unable to remember the ones who love them the most.

Upon releasing the statement about the first lady’s condition, the Carter Center said, “We hope sharing our family’s news will increase important conversations at kitchen tables and in doctor’s offices around the country.” And perhaps that is the lesson one should take from news like this – that mental health issues can affect anyone, no matter their background. And there is no shame in discussing them.

In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Boomer Report, nearly half of the baby boomers who reach 85 will either develop Alzheimer’s or will have to care for someone who has it. And while there is no cure, early detection can lead to better treatment and potentially slower progression. So don’t be afraid to discuss cognitive impairment or any other mental health issues with loved ones and medical professionals.

As former President Bill Clinton said in 1999, “mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” So whether it be depression, anxiety, dementia or any other mental health issue, treat it as you would any health issue. Be proactive about seeking help and support.

For further reading on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, check out Georgia Trend’s April 2019 feature, “When Memory Fails,” at georgiatrend.com. And for more on former President Jimmy Carter’s legacy, read “A Man of the People” in this issue.

Categories: Up Front