Jimmy Carter's grandson gives update on former president's health

Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason Carter, has shared a new update on the former president's condition. 

Carter, the oldest grandchild of the former president and former first lady Rosalynn Carter spoke to Southern Living recently, telling the magazine that his grandfather was "experiencing the world as best he can as he continues through this process" without his beloved longtime love.

It's been nearly 16 months since the now-99-year-old Carter entered hospice care in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. At that time, the Carter Center announced the 39th President of the United States "decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention."

His grandson says his grandfather seems to be in good spirits and is facing a new phase of his life without Rosalynn.

"After 77 years of marriage … I just think none of us really understand what it’s like for him right now," Jason said. "We have to embrace that fact, that there’s things about the spirit that you just can’t understand." 

He told the magazine that Jimmy Carter is not awake every day but is still spending time with his family at any chance he gets.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks to the congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church before teaching Sunday school in his hometown of Plains, Georgia on April 28, 2019. Carter, 94, has taught Sunday school at the church on a regular basis since

Carter said he had recently visited his grandfather. As they watched a Braves game together, he said he told his grandfather that he wasn't sure what to tell people when they asked how he was doing.

"I told him, I said: ‘Pawpaw, you know, when people ask me how you’re doing I say, ‘honestly I don’t know,’" Jason said. "And he kind of smiled and he said ‘I don’t know myself.’" 

Jimmy Carter marks one year in hospice care

At the age of 99, Carter remains the longest-lived American president. Experts on end-of-life care hope his endurance drives awareness and hope for others in the same boat.

Hospice is defined as care for terminally ill patients. According to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, people enter hospice care if they are likely to have six months or less to live. The priority is not to provide further treatment, but to reduce pain and discomfort toward the end of life.

But, Jimmy Carter has proven himself to be a trooper. On Oct. 1, 2024, he'll turn 100 years old.

Can someone be in hospice for years?

In 2021, the average stay of hospice patients who died was 92 days, MedPAC calculated. The median was 17 days — about two weeks longer than the time between when the Carters’ announced the former first lady had entered hospice and when she died.

About 10% of enrollees who die in hospice care stayed more than 264 days. Extended cases drive a majority of costs. In 2021, $13.6 billion of the overall $23 billion paid was for stays exceeding 180 days before death. Of that, $5 billion was for stays longer than a year.

Patients are sometimes discharged from hospice if their condition stabilizes, especially if they have reached the six-month mark in the program. In 2021, 17.2% of the patients were discharged. The MedPAC report to Congress noted that for-profit agencies have higher average length of stays than nonprofits and added that living patients’ discharge rates raise questions about admission standards.

Novas offered explanations. She said hospice has seen an uptick in patients with dementia, conditions in which "a patient can wax and wane for months or even years." Another factor — one she said could explain Jimmy Carter’s endurance — is sheer grit.

"We cannot measure the human spirit," she said. With many conditions, "somebody who wants to be here is going to stick around for a while."