Sandra Day O'Connor "didn't want to believe" dementia diagnosis at first, son says

Son on Sandra Day O'Connor dementia diagnosis

When Sandra Day O'Connor first learned of her dementia diagnosis, "she didn't want to believe it," her youngest son, Jay, told "CBS This Morning." O'Connor, the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, retired in 2006 to care for her husband after his Alzheimer's diagnosis. On Tuesday she announced that she, too, has dementia and will no longer be able to participate in public life.

"Her whole life, she has overcome so many obstacles, and I think she thought, 'I could just power through this.' And it turns out, you can't really power through dementia and Alzheimer's," Jay O'Connor said Thursday.

Jay said his mother is restricted to a wheelchair but still recognizes him and is in "fine" condition at her assisted living community in Phoenix.

"She loves having visitors, loves having family, loves hearing the latest with the grandkids and what they're up to, and so you can have a wonderful conversation with her. … Short-term memory is a challenge these days," Jay said.

When it comes to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, the burden on the family and caregivers can be tough – but Jay said the family is "doing OK."

"My mom is not only a national treasure, she is a family treasure. So it's hard for all of to us to see her kind of go through this. It's a progressive condition. It keeps on getting worse over time," Jay said. "But my mom has handled everything with grace and dignity and, you know, we're just so proud of everything that she's done in her life and who she is as a person. So we feel honored to be able to help her at this time, when she needs help, just as she was a caregiver for our dad."

Jay said it was important to O'Connor that she could be open about her condition.

"She wanted to share the news herself and be transparent about it. It's a problem a lot of people have and she thought it would be helpful to get it out in the public," he said.