Northwest Herald

Oliver: Fight against Alzheimer’s, dementia loses 2 of its inspiring giants

The world recently lost two amazing women to dementia: former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. What’s more, both women had been vocal about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias long before their own diagnoses.

The former first lady put it plainly why she devoted many years to the cause of caregiving: “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers,” she is quoted as saying on the website for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers,

O’Connor, the first woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, stepped down in 2006 to spend more time with her husband, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1990. He died in 2009 at age 79.

The fact that O’Connor’s husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when he was young hits very close to my heart. So does what she said about it in 2008 in remarks to a Senate committee on aging.

“You may remember that in the early days of my husband’s illness, I often took him to court with me because he could not be left alone. … Many caregivers make similarly difficult decisions each and every day. Sadly, these life-changing decisions are simply part of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s,” she said.

Here’s the quote that hit me the hardest: “Eventually, formerly self-reliant, articulate and loving family members lose the ability to bathe, dress or eat without help ... lose the ability to communicate ... and fail to recognize the spouse or the children for whom they have cared so deeply for so many years. I submit to you that until you have actually stared Alzheimer’s in the face, as millions of Americans and their families have done, you cannot truly understand the deep sense of frustration, fear, helplessness and grief that accompany it.”

As someone who lives this reality each day, I know the depths of feeling that those words convey.

Not surprisingly, the Alzheimer’s Association recognized both women for the roles they played.

For Carter, the association said this: “The Alzheimer’s Association mourns the loss of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. For decades, through the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, Ms. Carter championed to improve the health and wellbeing of family caregivers,” said Joanne Pike, president and CEO, Alzheimer’s Association. “Ms. Carter leaves behind a legacy of using her powerful voice to inspire action and change. By bravely talking about her diagnosis publicly, the Carter family inspired more conversations about dementia, helping all those impacted feel less alone.”

For O’Connor, it said this: “Former Justice O’Connor played an important role in making Alzheimer’s the national priority it is today,” Pike said in a news release. “Driven by her experience of caring for her husband as he battled Alzheimer’s, she served as a member of the Alzheimer’s Study Group in 2009, ensuring caregivers and those living with dementia were represented. Ms. O’Connor leaves behind a legacy as a transparent leader using her voice to inspire action and change for all those impacted by Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.”

They were brave, strong women who will be remembered for a long list of accomplishments. I, however, am particularly inspired by their connection and efforts in caregiving and advocating for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

* * *

Deadline extended: The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter has extended the Caregiver Award nomination period until Dec. 15. This extension provides an additional opportunity to recognize and celebrate caregivers who tirelessly support individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are two award categories: Family and Friend Caregiver, for individuals who provide care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia within their family or as a friend, and Professional Caregiver, for individuals who work in a professional capacity to care for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, such as health care professionals, caregivers in health care facilities or related roles.

The deadline for submitting nominations is Dec. 15. Selected award recipients will be notified in January 2024. The Google form can be found here: Caregiver Award Nomination Form (

The awards will be presented at the “Power of Purple: A Reason for Hope Luncheon,” which will take place March 19, 2024, at the Four Seasons in Chicago. To learn more, visit

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.