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. Val

    As a daughter who has a Mom with dementia.... a Mom who has had it for 10+ years... I applaud you, Pat Summit. Give it everything you have got. Don't take "no" for an answer and allow those who love you to help you through this. I am pulling for you! I'm not a Tennessee fan.... I am a Pat Summit fan. Hoping for the absolute best for you! Hugs and well wishes!

    November 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    I wish her well....You know come to think about it, there are probably quite a few coaches around that have "dementia" symptoms ...but don't know it yet. Tony L...The Cardinals' manager sure demonstrated some form of dementia during game 6 of the world series with his pitching game management. But they won...! So it's not all bad!

    November 1, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    You don't die from mad cow disease.

    When an animal's immune system is suppressed because of a violation of the immutable natural health laws that govern the health of both animals and man, then the body produces the agent necessary to clean out the mess of dead and dying tissue resulting from the violation of these health laws.

    You see, these supposed "infective agents" such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and now Prions, are NOT the CAUSE of the diseases, they are the RESULT of a diseased body caused by the wrong diet and lifestyle. These bacteria, viruses, fungi and prions are actually the "clean-up crew", formed by the body, to get rid of the mess and clean out the body.

    We have been taught that germs CAUSE disease. But germs DON'T cause disease anymore than flies cause garbage! This is explained in detail in the video "Drugs NEVER Cure Disease."

    Before Congress flip-flopped and made it legal for cattle ranchers and dairy farmers to use hormones to make their cattle fatter, mad-cow disease was virtually unheard of. Before the flip-flopping generation of government started in 1973 by flip-flopping on abortion, greedy ranchers and dairymen caught using hormones to make cows fat were arrested, tried, and convicted. Now they all do it legally, and mad-cow thrives.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Horatio Hornblower

      lol

      November 2, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • nimrod

      kook!

      November 2, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      Really?

      A varient of CJD is found in Paupa New Guinea. It is called 'Kuru'.

      There aren't any cattle there being injected with hormones or anti-biotics there. In fact, cattle don't play a role in this disease at all. The people who catch Kuru are cannibals. Human beings also contain prions, and those who choose to ingest them in Paupa New Ginea are catching Kuru from those prions.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    @Bobby Joe Gentry:

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

    It isn't Alzheimer’s disease, which is what Mr. Summitt was diagnosed with.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    Cows die from mad cow disease.

    Humans die from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    Mad-cow, Creutzfeldt–Jakob, and chronic wasting disorder are all the same. No animal, not even a human, has ever died from this disorder brought about by a life of poor eating habits and ingesting of dangerous drugs that alter hormonal balances in humans, and humans that consume too much red meat and dairy processed from cattle "grazing" on steroids and hormones.. See my above post for proof. Don't forget to watch the video *citation*.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      See my above post for Kuru.

      The tribal people of Paupa New Guinea are far too poor to get things like anti-biotics or really any kind of drugs. By your logic, they should be incredibly healthy. And too their cannibal neighbors, prime organic eating. And yet Kuru, caused by human prions, is lethal.

      Go figure.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    It can be inherited in a small number of cases (in humans).

    They are all variants of the same thing, true.

    It is not, however, in any, way, shape or form, connected *at all* to Alzheimer’s disease, which a poster has inferred above.
    Not at all.

    November 2, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Silly 4millyR

    yea look at philip here, hes had dementia forever yet he just keeps on keepin on he he

    November 2, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Silly 4millyR

    Either that or he got mad cow disease from cow dippin huh philip? Did you chant SODOMY SODOMY SODOMY SODOMY while you was dippin?

    November 2, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Silly 4millyR

    lmao shut him up didnt it?

    November 2, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Silly 4millyR

    Be greatful you guys he would go on forever with his demented rants!

    November 2, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. JehseaLynn

    @MadCowDisease – there is a human variant of Mad Cow Disease. It is called Creutzfeld-Jackob Disease and a Denver, CO hospital had to pay a settlement several years ago to a few people to whom the hospital had inadvertently passed the disease, via improperly sterilized instruments, during their neurosurgeries. It was a very heartbreaking case all around. But that is the human variant of Mad Cow Disease.

    November 2, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dani

    It's... concerning, how little many people seem to know about these things... Thank you, Banasy. You always know the topic before commenting, I do appreciate it and find your comments very insightful (and even educational sometimes).

    November 2, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Portland tony

    It seems to me, other than the analysis of outward behavior, a little archaic that the only way to confirm Alzheimer's dementia is by autopsy. Noting that all dementia is not Alzheimers. There's has got to be a better way! Surely with the almost Epidemic outbreak among the ever increasing number of "seniors", more dollars should be invested in finding a cure! Diagnosis is really moot since, there is no cure. Only medical guesses ...Like ....eat veggies and live healthy ...Ha!

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

      Yes, there are many types of dementia. My mom-in-law has 'vascular dementia' caused by a blockage.

      And there is a form of dementia that is found in vegetarians (and esp. hard core vegans) much more often then in non-vegetarians. It is caused by a lack of B vitamins, in particular B12. In it's early stages it can betreated with shots and diet changes, but if left go, it does become permanent.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. banasy©

    Some poor souls can live two years with this disease; something I can't even fathom.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
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