August 23rd, 2011 at 2:18 pm
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Basketball legend Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia

by Carol Bursack

A combination of intelligence, drive, competitiveness and leadership, all in a homespun Southern voice that took women’s basketball (and women’s sports in general) from forgotten to the forefront.

These words, written by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, beautifully describe Tennessee Lady Vols’ basketball coach, Pat Summitt, who–at age 59–has been diagnosed with early “onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.” Summitt had experienced months of what she labeled “erratic behavior” before she scheduled an examination at the Mayo Clinic last May. This type of diagnosis is life changing at any age, but at age 59, the effect is even more unnerving.

Why would someone who is active, smart, educated and basically doing all of the right things for her body and mind develop dementia?

Staying on the sidelines for as long as possible

Just as musician Glen Campbell–who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s–intends to keep making music, Pat Summitt feels her gifts will keep her coaching for some time. Summitt says she plans on coaching until she can no longer do so. Most likely she will depend on friends and colleagues to help her know when it’s time to hang up her coaching position and watch her players from the sidelines.

Dealing with the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s

Wetzel describes the impact on sports Summit has had and mourns the fact that she won’t remember it herself.

What a life this woman has led, and for her not to be able to sit back for decades to come and enjoy every last memory? What an impact this woman has had on so many other lives, and there’s a chance she won’t get to appreciate it, or recall it?

To me, this is a challenge that Summitt’s friends and family need to take on immediately. As time passes and her short-term memory fades, Summitt will most likely still respond to images in scrapbooks of clippings, Internet stories that have been written about her, newspaper photos and television footage showing her at her peak.

Slideshows that show this remarkable woman in action may bring back memories when she no longer recalls who she is or her relationship to the world. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s tend to respond to photos longer than they do the written word, so Summitt’s family and friends can get to work now to preserve these precious memories, so this remarkable woman can enjoy her accomplishments, even when she has forgotten that talented woman she sees on the screen is her very own self.

Summitt’s courage has never been called on so totally as it is being called on now. Her fighting spirit will help, as she battles against the slow destruction of her personality.

With 1,000+ career wins,15 SEC championships, 8 national championships and an unrelenting, competitive spirit, it wouldn’t surprise me if this Hall-of-Famer keeps the worst symptoms at bay just a little longer.

Posted in Alzheimer’s, Dementia | 2 Comments »
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2 Comments to “Basketball legend Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia”

  1. I would like to know how does one determine the diagnosis of dementia or alzheimer’s? is it just short term memory loss? please help….


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