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.’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©

    I meant with
    Creutzfeld-Jackob Disease.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scottish Mama

    Since the cause is not known a cure cannot be found.
    @Philip-I have read your post here and on other blogs. I have questioned the hormone theory here before. CNN has posted info. on this in the past in conjuncton with early female development. I do not remember but I think that cases of autism started to rise after 1992 when they started to inject the cows with hormones. I find it interesting that the tendancy of autism (1 in 60 children) and alz. is plaquing our young and elderly and there has not been any studies that hormones might be linked.(I think the story on CNN had people getting illegal milk (Milk that was unpasturized)from the back of a truck).
    @Banasy- Since the jury is still out and a cause is not known I would not rule out anything. Many diseases that jump from one animal to another is not always the same. Look at swine flu. I think once it jumps from the animal to human it changes, maybe lesser in the human, maybe more devistating.
    I am grasping at straws maybe because I have a family member now. As I did on the blog about Marjuana might break up the plaque the disease puts in the brain.
    The Arisept is not a cure, since they do not have the cause.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    There is no correlation between
    Creutzfeld-Jackob Disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
    The only thing they have in common is one of the symtoms is dementia.
    Dementia presents in many different scenarios, in many different illnesses.
    That is *all* I'm trying to say.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. sonas76

    Humans have a much longer life span now, longer then we ever have had in recorded history. That is what has lead to the statistical rise in diseases such as Altzheimer's. Simply stated, people used to die of another disease before they got Altzheimer's. Now, thngs like major heart problems don't mean death, you can be kept alive quite a long time. The older you get, the higher your chances are to get dementia. The same can be said about other diseases, such as breast cancer.

    Since everyone seems to think autism and Altzheimer's are somehow related and are both epidemics, did you ever stop and think that autistic people used to just be classified as 'retarded'? How many 'retarded' children do you know at this point in time? Not many I bet. That is because diagnostics have gotten considerably better and the DSM has changed considerably. Case in point, 'Idiot Savants' no longer exist, but 'Autistic Savants' do. 'Senility' and 'Feeble-mindedness' also used to be the blanket term for people with dementia. Now we know there are different forms of dementia. My mother-in-law is such a case. She might act like she has Altzheimer's, but in fact she has 'vascular dementia' caused by a blockage into her brain. If it had been caught early, she might have made a full recovery, but it's much too late at this point for her.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. Byrd

    Dementia, Alzheimer's and autism are all caused by the plaque forming in our brains as a result of the increasing microwave saturation from cell phone towers. In the Marine Corps we had microwave vans (AN-TYC-5 van) and we always posted radiation hazard signs around the area and cordoned it off because of the radiation hazard when the transmitter was keyed. The rise in autism and the proliferation of cell towers is parallel. The CDC knows this but refuses to investigate. Why? Because they already know the answer, but the hush money from the telecommunications industry speaks louder than death in America.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©

    Thank you.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      No, thank you. I totally dig it when you post.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Scottish Mama

    @Banasy- I was talking about hormones not mad cow disease. I do not believe I mentioned mad cow

    November 2, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    You can imagine my confusion, then, after I read this:

    "@Banasy- Since the jury is still out and a cause is not known I would not rule out anything. Many diseases that jump from one animal to another is not always the same. Look at swine flu."

    If I misinterpreted it, oops.

    How do you make a hormone?
    Don't pay her.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  9. Scottish Mama

    Yes I understand, I went back and reread my post. smile I have no idea how to make a hormoe. But you know the sports people who have injected hormones have ended up with brain tumors. I would think that if you drink milk it would have the hormones in it. Just as if the grass the cows eat effects the milk. Graspin is all i am doing.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. mdocdoc

    Sadly, the mortality is unaffected by brain stimulation/puzzles or medication; it is pretty constant at 10 years from the time of diagnosis. What stimulation and medication can do is to maintain function , high function, longer. The end result is a very steep decline to death in these folks near the end of their ten year anniversary of their diagnosis..

    November 2, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    I think there's a definite correlation between the brain tumor/hormone theory.
    More study is needed, and less of a rush to get things to market would help, I think.
    I think genetically engineered food in general isn't very healthy.
    Look what they've done with pork...they've bred the color right out of it, (pork, the other white meat, anyone?) and now they're trying to replace the color and enhance the taste because of over engineering has left pork somewhat tasteless. (Except bacon, yum!)

    Too many variables.
    Too little study on long-term effects.

    I also think that sonas76 is correct; the categories of how people are classified has changed; what 20 years ago would have had a child labeled as mentally retarded has now changed into a diagnosis of autism, with all the sub-categories that goes with it...thus, mental retardation appears down, and autism appears up.

    Ah, hell, what's the answer?

    November 2, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. sonas76

    The correlation between bovine (cow) hormones and human disease is iffy at best. Bovine genetics and human genetics are just too different from each other. Porcine (pig) hormones are another story. Porcine and human DNA are close enough that early on in the history of treating diabetes, porcine insulin ( a byproduct of slaughterhouses) was indeed used to treat human diabetics. It's illegal in the U.S. to use additional hormones in hogs for consumption because they can affect people.

    All animal protein foods contain hormones. Meat, eggs and especially milk. It doesn't matter if the milk is raw and organic. It is still hormone laden. Heck, even some vegetables are hormone laden, just look at soy beans.The only way to avoid any additional hormones in your diet would be to swear off protein altogether, which would be incredibly dangerous (look up B vitamin deficiency).

    As for disease being caused by humans ingesting extra human hormones, there is a definite correlation. This also occurs naturally in humans when they develop an endocrine disease, just look up 'Acromegly'. Endocrine disease has never been linked to Altzheimer's though.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Scottish Mama

    Thank you Sonas76 for your input.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    We do too know the cause of all diseases, and we know that drugs won't cure them.

    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, not the CAUSE. A diseased body made so by the wrong diet and lifestyle is what CAUSES diseases. 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 2, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • sonas76

      Phil.....really, take you meds, put on your tin foil hat and lay down.

      November 2, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  15. Silly 4millyR

    And STOP diddlin the dayum dog for petes sakes!! Hes afraid of you!

    November 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
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