Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t discriminate. No matter your fame, no matter how deep your pockets, it slowly, but methodically ravages minds. It’s an unwelcome visitor. Few understand this more than the family of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the court.

During O’Connor’s life, she has become all too familiar with the disease. By last October, when publicly revealing her diagnosis of “dementia, probably Alzheimer’s” (those were the doctor’s words), the disease had already taken her mother, aunt and husband.

Her youngest son, Jay, a tech executive in San Francisco, spoke with me about how his mother provided Alzheimer’s caregiving for his father John while she was on the Supreme Court and how that led her to retire at 75, in 2006. He also talked about how his mother, now 88, is living with her own diagnosis. He and his brothers also provided recollections in the O’Connor biography out today, First, by Evan Thomas.

In these conversations, an intimate picture emerges of one of the country’s most powerful women navigating work/life balance on a grand scale — the twin pressures of a husband progressively losing cognitive function while she carries out her unique responsibilities as one of nine justices on the Supreme Court.

The job and family circumstances may differ, but similar scenes are playing out privately in millions of homes across America.

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