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Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Grandson Offers Update on Their Health: ‘We’re in the Final Chapter’ (Exclusive)

Josh Carter tells PEOPLE that while it's "different" visiting his grandparents' home now that they've grown a bit quieter, "they are still here, they are still holding hands and still very much together"

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Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter walks with his wife, former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter along with Secret Service along West Church Street following dinner at a friend's home on Saturday August 04, 2018 in Plains, GA. Born in Plains, GA, President Carter stayed in the town following his presidency
Former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter walk through Plains, Georgia, on Aug. 4, 2018. PHOTO: MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY

Life at Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Plains, Georgia, home is “quiet and calm” these days, according to their grandson.

“My grandparents have always been the entertainers,” Josh Carter tells PEOPLE, reminiscing on how visits to see the former first couple were once filled with exciting stories and souvenirs from their world travels. “But now we’re kind of the ones having to entertain. It’s different, it’s just a different era.”

In February, the Carter Center announced that Jimmy, 98, had decided to cease medical intervention and enter hospice care “to spend his remaining time at home with his family.” Three months later, the Carters revealed that Rosalynn, now 96, has dementia.

Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter sits next to his wife, former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter while having dinner at the home of friend, Jill Stuckey and being interviewed by reporters on Saturday August 04, 2018 in Plains, GA. Born in Plains, GA, President Carter stayed in the town following his presidency
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have dinner with a friend in Plains, Georgia, on Aug. 4, 2018.MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY

Josh, 39, says that since Jimmy began hospice, “there’s always somebody at the house” to keep his grandparents company — often one of their kids. More recently, the only visitors to their home have been family and caregivers.

But while Jimmy and Rosalynn aren’t as active as they used to be, Josh clarifies that they’re still present and aware of what’s going on around them.

As for his grandfather, “He’s still fully Jimmy Carter,” Josh says. “He’s just tired. I mean he’s almost 99 years old, but he fully understands [how many well wishes he’s received] and has felt the love.”

Rosalynn, Josh adds, understands that she has dementia and even signed off on the press release that revealed her diagnosis in May. “She still knows who we are, for the most part — that we are family,” he says, noting that a good night’s sleep improves her symptoms. “My grandmother is still able to form new memories.”

former President Jimmy Carter, right, and his wife Rosalynn arrive for a ribbon cutting ceremony for a solar panel project on farmland he owns in their hometown of Plains, Ga. Jimmy and Rosalynn are celebrating their 77th wedding anniversary, Friday, July 7, 2023
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter arrive for a ribbon cutting ceremony for a solar panel project in their hometown of Plains, Georgia, on Feb. 8, 2017.DAVID GOLDMAN/AP

Josh says that it’s “gotta be hard” for Jimmy to see his wife of 77 years losing some of her memories — “but on the other hand, they’ve experienced everything that you can together. I think the beautiful thing is that they are still together.”

And they’re not just under the same roof. “They are still holding hands … it’s just amazing.”

Over the past several months, the Carter family has worked to be at peace with whatever comes next. “Odds are I’m gonna lose my grandfather before my grandmother,” Josh says. “He’s in hospice care and she’s not, and it’s just math.”

In the meantime, though, they’re focused on showing their love and appreciation for the fulfilling lives the former first couple gave them — a sentiment that another one of their grandchildren, Hugo Wentzel, recently expressed to PEOPLE.

A portrait of President Jimmy Carter and his extended family. Left to right: Judy (Mrs. Jack Carter); Jason James Carter; Jack (John William Carter); Annette (Mrs. Jeff Carter); Jeff (Donnel Jeffrey Carter); First Lady Rosalynn Carter; daughter Amy Lynn Carter; President Carter; daughter-in law Caron Griffin Carter holding James Earl Carter IV; and son Chip (James Earl Carter III). 1977-1980. | Location: outdoors. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
A portrait of President Jimmy Carter, first lady Rosalynn Carter and their extended family in the late 1970s. Jason Carter, born in 1975, is second from the left. CORBIS/CORBIS VIA GETTY

“We used to get together every year for New Year’s,” Josh recalls of a decades-long tradition led by his grandparents, which only stopped at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every year we got together our entire family and would go somewhere amazing. … And those family trips are one of my most cherished memories.”

Josh also holds close the bond that his older son formed with Jimmy over fishing, and still gets a kick out of the time that his younger son did tricks on a scooter in the former first couple’s home, which Rosalynn still doesn’t let him forget.

“It’s clear we’re in the final chapter,” Josh says. And though having a “runway” to send his grandparents off won’t make their losses any easier, knowing that “they lived their lives to the fullest” helps.

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