Alzheimer's and college basketball's top coach
April 18th, 2012
04:20 PM ET

Alzheimer's and college basketball's top coach

Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball, is giving up her duties on the court, just months after announcing her battle with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Summitt, 61, announced Wednesday she was stepping down from her post at the University of Tennessee after 38 seasons and 1,039 victories.

It was just last August that the coach first publicly acknowledged the disease, a specific type of Alzheimer's diagnosed before age 65, affecting about 200,000 Americans.

The condition causes significant difficulties in memory and thinking, and there is no cure.

The general form of Alzheimer's affects more than 5 million Americans.

Summitt had told the Washington Post last year that she hoped to coach at least three more years. The newspaper said Summit had started losing her keys more often and forgetting team meetings - signs of memory problems.

In November, she said dementia wasn't slowing her down.

Summitt said in a statement Wednesday that she would continue her role as a spokesperson against Alzheimer’s disease through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

Although more rare than typical cases of Alzheimer's diseases, early-onset can occur among people in their 30s and throughout mid-life.

The progression of the condition varies by individual.

Some people have mild dementia symptoms for a longer time period than others before impairments become more serious. The mild stage usually lasts for about two years, during which time patients are still able to communicate and answer their own phones. Depending on the person, it may still be possible to continue working in some capacity.

Eventually, everyone with Alzheimer's becomes unable to remember and learn new information. They may require increasing assistance as the disease progresses.

Plaques in the brain are biological signatures of Alzheimer's disease. The hippocampus, the brains' structure involved in forming new memories, is affected. But it's impossible to know which parts of the brain will become damaged first.

Summitt will continue to be involved in certain activities with the basketball program, such as on-campus recruiting, mentoring, according to the university.  She has been named the team's head coach emeritus.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Mark J

    Great lady and a great coach. Hope she is at peace with her life and can have comfort for rest of her life.

    April 18, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. marlahrd

    Losing keys more frequently and forgetting meetings sounds like menopause to me. Any possibility she recently went off HRT? Other issues that could cause memory issues are statins and sleep disturbances (also common with menopause). I sure hope that her diagnosis ruled out these other possibilities.

    April 18, 2012 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sergio

      She has been diagnosed with the illness. I'm not sure how you can argue with this.

      April 18, 2012 at 19:37 | Report abuse |
    • Daisy

      Yes, I'm sure that, even though Pat Summitt has access to the very best doctors, they can't tell the difference between Alzheimer's and menopause.

      April 18, 2012 at 21:59 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      People don't generally accept a diagnosis like that without thinking about all possible alternatives. It is incurable. However, a conclusive diagnosis is actually only possible after death because it requires an autopsy. If you have ever met a person with dementia you would not confuse it with menopause.

      April 19, 2012 at 00:28 | Report abuse |
    • betthy

      Autopsy is actually the only way to truly diagnose Alzheimers. Yes, doctors can be incorrect when it comes to pinpointing the direct cause of the many forms of dementia. We are going through this with my mom right now. Inflammation seems to be culprit in the body when it comes to many forms of dementia. Lower inflammation through diet and supplements and neurological symptoms often improve. It'sbasic, simple and true; you are what you eat.

      April 19, 2012 at 08:40 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      A while ago, just before the death of my graahfntder (he actually died of a stroke at one of my cousin's hockey games that led to a coma), I was talking to him on the phone and halfway through the conversation he forgot who I was and thought I was some random girl (I'm a guy). Such a tragic condition but unfortunately it is difficult control. To all those suffering or know a friend or family member who has fallen prey to this, may peace and love be with you and guide your soul through eternity.

      September 11, 2012 at 20:33 | Report abuse |
    • Ibrahim

      Thank you for this synopsis. This book soudns like a handy source of tips and advice for dealing with the hardship of watching a loved one suffer from Alzheimer's. It soudns more like a friend there to help than a heavy source of information on Alzheimer's. I will certainlly recommend it to anyone who is in this tough situation.

      September 13, 2012 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
  3. Norma J Hill

    I watched Pat Summitt whenever I could and she was my favorite coach. My thoughts and prayers go out to her.

    April 18, 2012 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. becky

    Marlahrd, everything else was ruled out. She talked about it last aug when she was diagnosed. Right now i take care of 2 women that have early onset Alz....... one is 51 the other is 50. Its such a sad desease, hopefully one day im out of a job.

    April 18, 2012 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Betty

    Could it be that a side effect of statins taken to lower cholestrol is memory loss. Are there statistics on people with Alz... to see whether they take statins?

    April 18, 2012 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • carolae

      If statins did cause Dementia/Alzheimers, then I would have had symptoms 20 plus years ago. I am a 73 year old female who has a family history of high cholesterol. I've been on various kinds of meds for over 25 years...the latest being Lipitor for the past several years and my numbers just don't go down by much....around 210 or so....it's hereditary as I eat very bland.

      April 19, 2012 at 09:00 | Report abuse |
    • Daisy

      Carolae, there is evidence that statins do cause cognitive impairment in some people; it was all over the news a couple of weeks ago. A competent doctor should be able to rule that out, though, before making a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Even though the only definitive test for Alzheimer's is autopsy, it has characteristics that should make diagnosis pretty reliable.

      April 19, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  6. Mari

    I am only 45 and have been told I am going to come down with the alhzemiers disease===I can't work because I am dizzy all the time–and vertigo spells–allergies and heat make my condition worse– (why don't they have a cure yet??) or why isn't money invested into research for this disease...Why??

    April 18, 2012 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Estelle


      Coconut Oil Touted as Alzheimer's Remedy – and other diseases

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      Alzheimer's disease in some people and may actually prevent it.

      April 18, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse |
    • Daisy

      I'm sorry you've been told you're going to develop Alzheimer's. Who told you that, and what was it based on? Dizziness and vertigo have nothing to do with Alzheimer's. A great deal of money is being spent on Alzheimer's research, and there are some very promising treatments being studied. In the meantime, there are medications that can help slow the progression of the disease.

      April 18, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      Mari - If you are on a statin, I would STOP taking it immediately.... and in addition to adding organic extra virgin coconut oil and MCT oil to your diet, I would get with a doctor who will supervise your conversion to an entirely ketogenic diet.... Alzheimer's isn't a disease you catch, it is purely dietary (even if you have a family history, your diet is the trigger)..... AND STOP EATING ALL GRAINS and SOY and DAIRY IMMEDIATELY....

      June 28, 2016 at 09:46 | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      And if you are on a low-fat and / or high carb diet, STOP THAT IDIOCY immediately..... Alzheimer's autopsies regularly reveal LOW levels of cholesterol in the brain, and since the brain is 70% fat (and cholesterol) this is a problem.... and animal cholesterol DOES NOT create the bad cholesterol in your body, your body creates the bad cholesterol from all the grain and sugar and inflammatory foods and medicines you put through your pie hole.... which is then exponentially made worse by your stress and lack of sleep....

      June 28, 2016 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  7. Cindy

    I can't say I'm a big basketball fan, but I have a lot of respect for Summit. Going public with a God-awful disease like this will hopefully put a face on this disease and I can admire her for being so honest with everyone, even though she didn't have to. My grandmother had dementia and it's so hard to see someone who care about live with this. My heart goes out to her and her family.

    April 18, 2012 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. peggy

    My grandmother had Alzheimer's at a much older age, so I feel for Ms. Summit. My mother was also diagnosed with it, but in her case, I really believe it was other illnesses and various medications she took that made her seem more impaired than she really was at the various times she saw doctors. Because most of the time, she was very coherent. Medications can affect the memory, I have discovered from living with her for many years.

    April 19, 2012 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jbone

    This world is just plain tuff! Love you Pat b STRONG!

    April 19, 2012 at 07:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mary

    A true leader and mentor to thousands of people. I use her leadership lessons to teach my high school students everyday. I will miss seeing her on the sidelines coaching. She is an amazing women.

    April 19, 2012 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mitt Romney

    What's alzhiemers?
    I forgot

    April 19, 2012 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daisy

      You or someone you care about will get Alzheimer's. See how funny you think it is then.

      April 19, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
    • JHenry

      Your comment is a display of your ignorance, insensitivity and raw unvarnished stupidity. Apologize.

      April 19, 2012 at 18:47 | Report abuse |
  12. john goddard

    Our prayers go out to you. What p-– me off is that we can find billions to fight unjust wars and political campaigns but do not fund what the cause of this, multiple sclerosis, and a lot more health issues are. Nor, does the government seem to want to find a cure. man, our priorities are so screwed up!!!!! Excuse me, have to go and tie my dog onto the roof of the car.

    April 19, 2012 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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      September 11, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
  13. Tami Amburn

    She certainly had a great career and an awesome coach. I pray for her. What bothers me is the way UT pretended she was still coaching this year although, she never gave any on camera interviews after games. Even her statement yesterday was recorded. If you have been involved with anyone with the disease, the changes are not all memory related, there are many personality changes too. Many you would never expect. I knew in my heart she would not be coaching aftre this year. This is a LIFE CHANGING disease. It needs to be dealt with in a realistic manner. Not covered up.

    April 19, 2012 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. JRR2

    She's been diagnosed with early onset dementia. I've never seen a report of Alzheimer's. You can have dementia without having Alzheimer's. There are many diseases that can cause dementia.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JRR2

      Just checked, yes, it was diagnosed as Alzheimer's type of dementia. My bad.

      April 19, 2012 at 12:56 | Report abuse |
    • Natu

      Exercise is beneficial no mteatr what. The fact that exercise may improve brain health is just an added bonus. It's important for people of all ages to remain active for their physical and mental health.

      September 11, 2012 at 20:19 | Report abuse |
  15. b.h.

    I had the priviledge of hearing Pat Summit speak at a conference I attended two years ago. Though not a bball fan, I have tremendous respect for her & hope she continues to have the opportunity to inspire and motivate others as she did me.

    April 19, 2012 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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