Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says she has been diagnosed with “the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease,” in an open letter that was released Tuesday.

O’Connor, 88, is the first female justice to serve on the high court, and she has remained active after retiring in 2006. She left the court to care for her husband, John, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, O’Connor says, the disease is forcing her to withdraw from public life.

Despite her condition, O’Connor said, “nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.”

In a letter released by the Supreme Court’s public information office, O’Connor said she received the diagnosis “some time ago.”

“As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life,” O’Connor said. “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.”

In her letter, O’Connor then describes the importance of encouraging the growth of Americans’ civic learning and engagement — a key goal of iCivics, the organization she started after retiring from the federal bench.

(more at npr.org)