Pat Summitt will battle Alzheimer's from the bench

Pat Summitt is the “winningest” coach in women’s basketball. At age 59, she has reached the pinnacle of her career, including induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she now joins over 5 million other Americans in their battles with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

AD is a degenerative disease of the nervous system that prohibits its victims from learning new information and recalling recent events. The cause of AD is unknown but it can occur in families, as is the case with Coach Summitt.

Forgetfulness is a common part of normal aging. Difficulty finding the right word or recalling someone’s name is acceptable. When these difficulties progress to becoming lost in familiar surroundings and not recognizing close family members, AD must be considered.

Symptoms of AD also include difficulties with executive planning, loss of judgment and social withdrawal. The pressure and cognitive demands of successful coaching can be overwhelming. Pat Summitt’s attempt to continue coaching at the University of Tennessee at a high level is amazing.

There are several medications available for patients with mild to moderate symptoms of AD. Unfortunately, none of these medications alter the actual progression of AD.

Coach Summitt has not chosen to “ride off into the sunset.” Instead she is approaching this disease like any athletic challenge. She is preparing her assistant coaches to take on more responsibilities. She is also beginning a regimen of medication, cognitive exercises and mental preparation.

This approach is not surprising to those of us who work with athletes. When presented with an obstacle that is seemingly insurmountable, athletes dig in and prepare for battle.

Pat Summitt is a great coach and a leader for the rights of women in sports. Now she will put a famous face to a crippling terminal illness and hopefully stimulate interest toward a cure.

1 comment:

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