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Tennessee Womens Basketball Coach Diagnosed With Early Dementia

- Friday, August 26, 2011

University of Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history, announced this week that she is suffering from early onset dementia.

The first neurologist told her she had symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a second one advised her to retire immediately. Summitt will continue to coach the Lady Vols, who she has led to eight National Collegiate Athletic Association titles in 36 years at Tennessee. She has been chosen NCAA coach of the year seven times.

Three months ago, Summitt, 59, the  University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach visited the Mayo Clinic seeking an explanation for a troubling series of memory lapses over the past year. A woman who was always highly organized had to ask repeatedly what time a team meeting was scheduled for. “She lost her keys three times a day instead of once,” her son Tyler says. She was late to practice.

“Are you having trouble with your memory?” friends began asking, puzzled.

“Sometimes I draw blanks,” she finally admitted.

Her first clue that something was badly wrong came last season, when she drew a blank on what offensive set to call in the heat of a game.

Summitt believed her symptoms were the side effects of a powerful medication she was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, when she received her test results at the end of May, they confirmed a shocking worst-case scenario: She showed “mild” but distinct signs of “early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type,” the irreversible brain disease that destroys recall and cognitive abilities over time, and that afflicts an estimated 5 million Americans.

Denial was followed by anger. Finally, Summitt realized she would have to accept the diagnosis. “I can’t change it,” she says. After a pause, she adds, “But I can try to do something about it.”

Summitt has a 1,071-199 record at Tennessee, more victories in men’s or women’s college basketball than any other coach.

Original articles - Washington Post, Bloomberg