Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the bench of the highest court in the land, The United States the Supreme Court, until she retired in 2006. O’Connor, 88, announced that she is giving up life in the public eye as an effect of being diagnosed with dementia, according to several new agencies, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released a letter from O’Connor, dated October 23.

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According to the SCOTUS blog, the retired justice’s announcement falls a day after the Associated Press (AP) published an exclusive report, noting that O’Connor took a step “back” from her public life.

Retired justice has ‘challenges’ with short-term memory

The AP report stated that her son Jay O’Connor revealed, in an interview with the news organization, that his mother, just like many people in her age range, has experienced “challenges with her short-term memory.”

In making her announcement, O’Connor relayed that she has been diagnosed with dementia and, as she expressed, “probably Alzheimer’s.” She was diagnosed “some time ago,” she stated according to the BBC.

More than two years since public appearance

The last time that O’Connor was active in public, according to the AP, was more than “two years ago.” Until then, she continued speaking on topics she felt passionate about, as well as served as a “visiting” appeals court justice at the federal level.

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At the time O’Connor stepped down from the U.S. Supreme Court she did so while her husband, John O’Connor was facing his own challenges following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2009, her husband died.

Signs were clear that retired justice O’Connor made the move toward a more private life after she stopped making public appearances and her sons, Jay and Brian, packed up her belongings from her Supreme Court office, which she then gave to now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, the AP and SCOTUS blog reported.

Milestone mementos donated by sons

Mementos, marking major milestones in O’Connor’s professional life, were also collected. The gavel from the confirmation hearings after President Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1981, the Presidential Medal of Freedom that former President Obama placed around her neck in 2009, and files were donated to the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, along with other items.

First woman on high court forever changed makeup of SCOTUS

O’Connor’s appointment shifted the makeup of the Supreme Court, though she was still outnumbered by her male counterparts.

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Her confirmation was groundbreaking. There are currently three women justices serving the nation’s highest court: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Though the balance still favors men on the bench, 6-3, O’Connor made way for women to take a rightful place at the court that makes definitive and lasting case decisions.

Definitely the first and certainly not the last woman justice

She offered her own perspective on having been the first woman serving Supreme Court, stating that it was “all right” being the first “to do something,” yet also “[she] didn’t want to be the last woman on the Supreme Court.” She definitely took her place on the bench and in history.

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Alzheimer’s Association gives nod on social media

News of O’Connor’s diagnosis spread quickly on social media, as well as in the news. The Alzheimer’s Association posted on its Twitter account, “Our hearts go out” to O’Connor, as well as to her family. The organization also recognized O’Connor for her “role in making Alzheimer's the national priority it is today.”

O’Connor’s letter was shared on Twitter by multiple sources, including: Lawrence Hurley, Thomson Reuters:

One of the most poignant passages states that while she was a “young cowgirl” growing up in Arizona, she never envisioned she would, one day, “become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Not even dementia, according to O’Connor, has “diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.”

It was only last month that the CDC released daunting projections for cases of dementia and Alzheimers in 2060. Cases are anticipated to double.

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