Rosalynn Carter's Cause Of Death Explained

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has died at age 96, according to The Carter Center. Married to President Jimmy Carter for well over seven decades, it was reported she passed away at the couple's home in Plains, Georgia. "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished," said President Carter. "She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

Earlier this year, her family announced that the humanitarian had developed dementia (via NBC). While the family didn't give further details on her diagnosis at the time, dementia is the 7th leading cause of death around the world (via WHO). While there are many different types of dementia, Alzheimer's is the most common, as it can make up 60-70% of diagnosed cases. Learn how this incurable disease leads to a shorter life expectancy. 

How can dementia lead to death?

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that destroys the connections in your brain. The Columbia University Department of Neurology states it starts by destroying parts of the brain linked to personality and decision-making, like the hippocampus. However, as it progresses, the disease works deeper into the brain to destroy more cells and connections, inhibiting basic functions like breathing and heart rate.

This makes the person susceptible to underlying complications, per Alzheimer's Society. As a person enters the later stages of dementia, they become more frail, develop problems eating and drinking, and have less mobility. They also have a weaker immune system, making them at a higher risk for infection. Therefore, complications from dementia lead to malnutrition, pneumonia, stroke, heart disease, and blood clot deaths, per Medical News Today. The Alzheimer's Society noted pneumonia is a leading cause of death for those who have dementia. However, Dr. Scott Small, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Columbia University, stated, "What matters most is the dying of cells."

It's difficult to know how long a person can live with this incurable disease. Research in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that life expectancy with dementia varies based on the age of diagnosis. For example, women diagnosed at 65 had a life expectancy of 18 years, while those diagnosed at 95 lived about 2.3 years. It was lower for men by a few years.