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O'Connor's Son Discusses Ailing Father

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November 13, 2007 08:32 PM EST | AP

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PHOENIX — Sandra Day O'Connor's husband struck up a romance with a fellow Alzheimer's patient after moving into an assisted living center, and under the circumstances, the retired Supreme Court justice is just glad that he is comfortable, her son told a TV station.

The retired justice isn't jealous about his relationship with the woman, Scott O'Connor told KPNX in Phoenix in a broadcast that aired Thursday. He said it has dramatically changed the outlook of his father, John, toward being in the Huger Mercy Living Center.

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, cited her husband's illness and her need to take care of him when she retired in 2005. He was diagnosed with the neurological disease 17 years ago.

"Mom was thrilled that Dad was relaxed and happy and comfortable living here and wasn't complaining," their son said.

It was different when he first came to the center recently, the son said: "He knew this was sort of the beginning of the end. ... It was basically suicide talk."

John O'Connor was shifted to another cottage at the center, Scott O'Connor said, and "48 hours after moving into that new cottage he was a teenager in love. He was happy."

Sandra Day O'Connor declined a request for comment by The Associated Press sent via e-mail to Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. A message left with the only Scott O'Connor found in a Phoenix phone listing was not returned.

Lisa O'Toole, manager at the assisted-living facility, said there are three romances among the center's 48 residents. She described the relationships as almost childlike, with the couples holding hands, hugging or simply having dinner together.

As for their families' reactions, she said, "I've seen total extremes where families just fall apart, the wife doesn't understand, and they'll cry. And then you have the other end, the opposite spectrum ... that it's OK that they have somebody to make them happy."

Relationships among Alzheimer's patients nationwide are certainly not uncommon and they're definitely understandable, said Dr. Peter Reed, senior director of programs at the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association.

"Whether residents still have a spouse or whether their primary families are their children, people living in these situations are engaging each other all the time and are seeking human contact and seeking social relationships," he said.

Sandra Day O'Connor, 77, was named to the high court by President Reagan in 1981. She married John O'Connor in 1952 and they have three sons.