Jimmy Carter Marks One Year in Hospice Care

Jimmy Carter Marks One Year in Hospice Care
Jimmy Carter Marks One Year in Hospice Carter

Last February, when President Jimmy Carter announced he was receiving hospice care, the world got ready to bid farewell. Surprisingly, a year later, the longest-lived former president has not only defied public expectations but is comfortably spending his time at home in Plains, Georgia. Despite the initial concerns, he’s still enjoying watching sports, sharing moments with his grandkids, and actively shaping his significant legacy.

Speaking about this unexpected turn of events, Carter’s grandson Jason shared with PEOPLE in September that this prolonged time in hospice has turned out to be a blessing for the entire Carter family. He emphasized how the extra time has allowed them to bond and reflect on their relationships. Jason also expressed gratitude for the overwhelming love and support pouring in from people around the world during this period.

The Carter family went through a lot in the past year. Just three months after Jimmy decided to stop medical intervention, there was another challenge: Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, got diagnosed with dementia.

Even though her memory changed, Rosalynn’s cheerful attitude and daily routine stayed the same. She kept spending her days right by Jimmy’s side, holding his hand calmly. In a September interview, their grandson Jason shared that they’re still very much in love at home, finding peace together no matter what challenges they face. Their enduring love story, which has been a defining part of their lives, continues to shape their journey.

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In July, Jimmy and Rosalynn celebrated an incredible 77 years of marriage at their home. Then, in August, Rosalynn marked her 96th birthday, and by October, Jimmy became the oldest living U.S. president at 99. However, November brought a sad turn as Rosalynn entered hospice care. Just two days later, the Carter family shared the heartbreaking news of the passing of the pioneering first lady and mental health advocate.

Her brief time in hospice, compared to Jimmy’s year-long care journey, really showed how end-of-life care is a deeply personal experience. It varies a lot for each person, depending on factors like their diagnosis, living situation, and personal priorities.

Dr. Holly Yang, president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, pointed out that, statistically, most people in hospice care unfortunately spend less than a month. But she emphasized that some individuals could benefit for months, and it’s not uncommon for people to live longer than what doctors initially expect.

The Carters’ Public Hospice Journey Matters

In their final chapter, the Carters chose to be open about their declining health and decision to enroll in at-home hospice care, intentionally breaking down stigmas surrounding the topic. Over the past year, their straightforward sharing has sparked conversations about the enriching aspects of hospice care, shifting the focus from defeat to embracing life.

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According to Dr. Joe Rotella, chief medical officer at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, many people tend to avoid thinking or talking about the last days of life until it becomes unavoidable or their doctor raises the topic. He observed, “When a well-known figure like the Carters publicly acknowledges choosing hospice care, it encourages others to ask questions and consider it. Over time, we might overcome our discomfort with these topics and realize that embracing hospice care allows people to live to their fullest for as long as possible.”

In March, the Carter family will receive a presidential citation from the AAHPM, an award granted by academy president Dr. Holly Yang. This recognition reflects the appreciation of professionals in the field, with a previous event in Times Square last August honoring President Carter for “leading by example.”

Jason, the Carters’ grandson and chair of the Carter Center, will accept the AAHPM award on his family’s behalf, expressing gratitude for their public decisions. Dr. Yang appreciates their openness, saying, “President Carter and the former first lady made these decisions to be public about their choice because a lot of people aren’t — and that’s understandable.” She emphasizes that their openness allows people to question and understand the benefits of hospice care, fostering conversations within families and encouraging timely access to hospice care.

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Hospice care is like a form of medical support, but its main goal is to make folks comfortable as they near the end of their lives and give a helping hand to their families. This kind of care covers things like managing symptoms, providing emotional support through professionals like social workers or chaplains, and even assisting with funeral planning.

Even though hospice became an official Medicare benefit during President Ronald Reagan’s first term, President Carter was one of the early supporters of improving end-of-life care. Back in 1978, he declared November as National Hospice Month, and the following year, his administration kicked off the first hospice care demonstrations.

Looking at the increased attention since President Carter entered hospice care last February, Dr. Rotella notes, “I see more media coverage, more public interest, and more people discussing what hospice can do for you just because a public figure made that choice.” He stresses the importance of this choice, highlighting that despite entering hospice, the Carters continued living their lives to the fullest a few days later. This drives home the point that hospice care isn’t just for the last days of life; it can provide a much richer and more meaningful experience.

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