Dementia not slowing me down, Summitt says as season begins
Pat Summitt is about to coach her first game since revealing she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
November 1st, 2011
04:02 PM ET

Dementia not slowing me down, Summitt says as season begins

Pat Summitt says she has a game plan for how she’ll deal with dementia while continuing as University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach.

For the first time since she revealed her diagnosis more than two months ago, that strategy has taken her to an actual Tennessee game day.

Summitt, 59, will kick off her 38th season at the team’s helm on Tuesday night when Tennessee - ranked No. 3 in an Associated Press preseason poll - faces Carson-Newman in an exhibition match in Knoxville.

“What I want everybody to know is that I’m doing great,” Summitt, whose  1,071 wins are the most in major-college basketball history, said Thursday at a Southeastern Conference preseason media event. "Overall, I don’t really feel like I have dementia, but I have dementia.

“Everyone is asking about it all time. I don’t think it’s something that’s slowing me down. If anything, it’s revving me up.”

Summitt, whose Lady Vols have won eight national championships, most recently in 2008, announced in late August that she’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s causes significant memory and cognition problems; early onset means the disease was found before age 65.

She revealed in August that her pre-diagnosis symptoms included asking her son the same question repeatedly. And she said that she intended to keep coaching. A Mayo Clinic physician told her she could coach as long as she wanted to, she said.

She’s scaled back some of her workload, allowing assistant coaches to handle e-mails and other tasks. But with medication and a “game plan” to keep her mind sharp, she’s recruiting, coaching and hoping to guide her team to another Final Four.

“I wake up and I go and drink my coffee, and I do about 12 puzzles before I ever go into the office,” Summitt said Thursday. “When I get there, my mind is sharp. And that’s important - very important.”

Summitt, long revered for her success, earned plaudits for coaching on. SI.com’s Kelli Anderson wrote that Summitt can add to her legacy by bringing attention to Alzheimer’s in the way other sports figures - Jim Valvano, Kay Yow and Lance Armstrong for cancer; Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson for HIV/AIDS - did for their diseases.

USA Today’s Christine Brennan: Summitt’s experienced staff will help her

No typical job scenario exists for early-onset Alzheimer’s patients, in part because the disease progresses at different rates for different patients, Dr. Patrick Lyden, chairman of the neurology department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN in August.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta said that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that medication and mental exercises such as puzzles can help to slow the progression of the disease, for which there is no cure.

“But it’s a progressive problem, typically, so what (Summitt’s) memory is like now … may be different five to 10 years from now,” Gupta said.

Summitt said Thursday that she’s still coaching because she loves working with her student-athletes and coaches.

“There will probably come a time when I say enough is enough,” she said. “But it’s not about me. ... It’s all about these student athletes. We want them to win, and we want them to be able to say, ‘We cut down nets.’ That’s our focus right now, is on this team.”

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Filed under: Basketball • College basketball • Health • Sports
soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. banasy

    Here's another very good reason to cut the vastly excessive and unnecessary military spending in Washington. We need instead to use that money for research and a cure for this horrific disease(Alzheimer's) among others. I guess that the right-wing politicians are just too bull-headed to see that, sadly enough!

    November 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CrazyOwlLady

    Good for you, Ms. Summitt. Do not go gentle into that good night. Grace: You're doing it right.

    November 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scottish Mama

    It seems that brain problems, dementia and autism seem to be on the rise. I wonder if it is enviornmental? Food, air, or water?

    November 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      NO....Scottish Mama...it has NOTHING to do with food, water, air....it's herditary!!! You need to read up on it..my grandmother passed away from it and so did many of her siblings...so DO NOT blame it on the "air, food, water"!!!!

      November 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Shannon- I don't think the point was that it is not hereditary.I believe Scottish Mama was really commenting on the apparent rise in these types of conditions over the last several years. Just saying that they're hereditary doesn't explain this. Environmental conditions can cause certain genetic mutations that can be passed along through generations. Meaning, "environmental" and "hereditary" are in no way mutually exclusive. Just bc it's hereditary doesn't mean it's not initially caused by something in the environment. (i.e food, water, air, etc). I'm not saying this is the case, because I don't know and neither does anyone else for sure, hence there being no cure for it.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      I have never read any solid evidence that Alzheimers is hereditary! My mother in law was the first , and only, person in her family to get it. Hers was also early onset, she died of it with in days of her 70th BD.
      Her Doctor did say it was NOT hereditary. I know research changes the rules everyday...but I don't want people to take your word for fact. As google can't be taken for fact!

      November 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Jay-You are correct in your assumptions. I am questioning it. No one knows the cause, so therefore a cure is impossible at this point. Having seen the increase of both these brain ailments, I am wondering if 1 or more factors could be a stimulant to produce the disease.
      Having a family member with the disease and having grandparents living to 103, 101, 89 and 86, with none having the disease it does make me wonder.

      November 2, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      There is NOT an autism edidemic.

      As diagnosis of autism has gone up, diagnosis of mental retardation has gone down in direct proportion.

      Prior to changes in the DSM, if a child had a mental condition, chances were very good they would be classified as retarded. Now, we recognize autism and can diagnosis it with much better accuracy. Hence, less retarded kids, more kids with autism. My own nephew has autism, and I can see how 20 years ago he would have been consided retarded.

      Genetic studies are finding that autism is related to genetic mutation. Rett's Syndrome is a form of autism found only in girls. The mutation for it is found in the long arm of the X chromosome. There is now a genetic test for it.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jack

    She obviously forgot she has that problem.

    November 1, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • VR

      Jack, you cruel man. You beat me to the comment.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    Not me @ 4:36.

    It's GP!!! troll.

    I wish Pat Summit all the best.
    She's been an inst itution for many years, and I hope she is for many more.

    Btw: Alzheimer’s has nothing to do with Washington, moron, although a troll *would* try to connect this lady's malady with it to justify your silly post.

    November 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mad Cow Disease

    We have literally thousands and thousands of examples of non-human species of animals that have mad cow disease. In Colorado, for example, mad cow disease (aka chronic wasting disorder) can be found in thousands of deer and elk. So common was mad-cow in our native deer and elk, that several years ago the FDA and CDC banned elk ranchers from exporting elk meat accross the stae line.

    So where are the human examples of mad-cow? We have hundreds of thousands of other animal species known to be having a hard time dealing with mad-cow. Where are all the human animals who have it? Could it be taht alzheimers is mad-cow? I don't know, do you? All I know is that I find it strange that we eat animals that have mad-cow disease and don't come down with it ourselves as so many other animal species have.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Consensus

      Isn't Creutzfeld-Jacob the human equivalent of mad cow disease?

      November 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby Joe Gentry

      Isn't dementia as symptom of mad-cow disease?

      November 1, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      There is 'human mad cow' it is called 'Kuru'.

      Kuru is found in populations where cannibalism is practiced. Humans also contain prions.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. bobcat2u

    I expect that sooner or later these Tea Partying nutjobs will be blogging in here with their usual meaningless comments to make a joke out of this too! Alzheimer's disease is definately no laughing matter!!!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hati

    Shannon, it's a valid question, she said brain problems and autism too, any reason your so hostile?

    November 1, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    @Consensus:

    Yep. Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease is the human equivalent of mad cow disease.
    Nasty disease.
    Most people die within 6 mos. of initial symptoms.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Consensus

      Thanks, banasy. CJD is not related to Alzheimer's, as another poster wondered.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • ART

      Actually it's with 6 months the symptoms appear and is fatal in a short time, usually within 8 months

      November 2, 2011 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      I actually had a case of CJD at my hospital.

      From onset to death it was a matter of only two weeks. It was one of the most horrible non-trauma related deaths I have ever seen.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. jj

    Early onset Alzheimer's is genetic. Later Alzheimer's is not. Aricept can extend quailty of life for some time.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JMAN

    I feel bad for u

    November 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMAN

      pat summit i hope u win

      November 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kent in Dallas TX

    Banasy & Bobcat2u, Blaming everything on the consevative Republicans & the Tea Parties doesn't anything.

    It takes TIME for the researchers to learn anything useful about Alzheimer. Some very talented people are working right now trying to learn more about Alzheimers.

    If you are concerned about the condition, you can organize fund-raising events to raise money. However more money may not do any good.

    If you want a cure, that will probably not happen soon. Because Altzheimer is a genetic disorder, not by bacteria, it just is not that easy. You can't cure a genetic disorder with an antibiotic. You also can't cure it with a scalpel.

    Eventually somebody may discover a way to diagnose it & correct it embryos with genetic manipulation. Until then, try to stay active & exercize your brain.

    You may also want to stay from dangerous drugs, including alcohol & nicotine as well as illegal drugs. Some research indicates that not smoking may help slow down the mental deterioration.

    November 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Don't be so quick to say that an antibiotic can not cure a genetic disorder. There have been several latent genetic conditions that required a virus to trigger the disease. A person can have the precondition, but, if they never had the virus they would never get the disease. If a DNA scan indicates the condition a vaccination can protect the person from the disease. Time will tell if a bacteria can do the same thing.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat2u

      @kent
      That was not me posting @5:44PM. It's that troll GP trying to stir things up as usual.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    @Kent:
    That wasn't me @4:36.
    I did post the others.
    Look for the copyright.
    I don't denigrate anyone for the choice of political affiliation.
    If you had read my other post, you would have seen a difference in styles.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy©

    @B:
    Thank you for stating the obvious: that Google cannot be taken for fact.
    I have been saying that all along, to much derision.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. leeintulsa

    Can someone with dementia know if it's under control?

    November 1, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
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