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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reveals that she has been diagnosed with dementia

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 25, 2012, in Washington, D.C. O'Connor announced on Tuesday that she has dementia, and would be retiring from public life. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor revealed in a letter on Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with dementia and would be stepping down from public life.

What's the background?

O'Connor was the first woman to be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She served as a justice from 1981 to 2006, and was replaced by current Justice Samuel Alito. She had retired to spend more time with her husband, who was suffering from Alzheimer's. Her husband, John Jay O'Connor, died in 2009.

In a letter released to the public, the 88-year-old O'Connor told her “friends and fellow Americans” that she could no longer keep up with her public commitments.

“I want to share some personal news with you,” O'Connor wrote.

Some time ago, doctors diagnosed me with the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease. As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life. Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts.

O'Connor talked about her work with iCivics, an educational program that teaches civics to students through online games. O'Connor founded the program in 2009, but will now be stepping back from her role in that company due to her health.

I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition. It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a reality. It is my great hope that our nation will commit to educating our youth about civics, and to helping young people understand their crucial role as informed, active citizens in our nation.

What else?

O'Connor is one of four surviving, retired Supreme Court justices. The other three are David Souter (79), John Paul Stevens (98), and newly retired Anthony Kennedy (82).

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