Sandra Day O’Connor Announces She Has Dementia

The champion for Alzheimer’s awareness was diagnosed with the disease "some time ago."

Thirty-seven years ago, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rose up through the judicial system to become the first woman to serve on the highest court’s bench. Now, she’s braving another daunting experience alongside millions of other women: dementia.

In an open letter released on October 23, 2018, Justice O’Connor said she has been diagnosed with dementia, most likely Alzheimer's disease, and "as this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life.” Justice O’Connor is joining the estimated 5.7 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, two-thirds of whom are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which refers to a set of cognitive symptoms, including memory loss and difficulties with problem-solving, decision-making, or language, that result from brain damage caused by diseases or strokes. Those with the condition may have difficulty remembering recent events, completing a series of tasks, following conversations, or judging distances, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, and these symptoms will gradually worsen over time.


This isn’t Justice O’Connor’s first confrontation with the disease. Her late husband John J. O’Connor III suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than 20 years, and during that period, she became a staunch advocate for those living with the disease. Though she resigned from the Supreme Court to care for him in 2006, she continued to shape government policy by helping spearhead the Alzheimer’s Study Group, a nine-member task force assembled by Congress to develop strategies to fight the Alzheimer’s crisis in the U.S. In doing so, she positioned Alzheimer’s as a national priority and twice presented the group’s recommendations to Congress. “In all aspects of her life Justice O’Connor has been a transparent leader, and being forthcoming about her diagnosis is another demonstration of this,” the Alzheimer’s Association stated.

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