April 18th, 2012
04:20 PM ET
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.
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.
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