What Pat Summitt's Life Teaches Us About Early-Onset Alzheimer’s - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on July 08, 2016

What Pat Summitt's Life Teaches Us About Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Summitt recently died from early onset Alzheimer’s.

The average age of onset of Alzheimer’s is
close to 80, but Summitt was just 64 years old
when she died, five years after being diagnosed.

Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Summitt recently died from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. For basketball fans that followed her career at the University of Tennessee, where she won eight national championships, more than 1,000 career games and raised the national profile of women’s basketball, it was a sad day. For people whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s, it was an opportunity to create awareness and understanding.

Locally, that discussion also has gained momentum based upon the Philadelphia Inquirer’s series with legendary sports columnist Bill Lyon, who is chronicling his own fight with the disease.

Alzheimer’s causes memory loss, confusion, anxiety and other neurological issues, and is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In all, there are more than 5 million Americans suffering from it.

The average age of onset of Alzheimer’s is close to 80, but Summitt was just 64 years old when she died, five years after being diagnosed. This is categorized as early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. It accounts for about 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients. It isn’t known what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s but it is largely identical to other forms of the disease, and typically progresses the same way.

There are warning signs you should look for in your loved ones, as well as yourself.

The most obvious one is memory loss. A lot of people dismiss this as “just getting old” and even joke about Alzheimer’s, but it could be an indication that there is a neurological issue. While forgetting where you left your glasses one time is not a big deal, the Alzheimer’s Association says to watch for memory loss that disrupts daily life, confusion with time and place or difficulty completing familiar tasks. Persistent lapses of memory should be checked out with a doctor.

You should also pay attention to overall brain function. People with Alzheimer’s often have difficulty making good judgments, or even trouble speaking. Sometimes, they may have a hard putting together puzzles, understanding visual images or performing other complex tasks with their hands.

While there is naturally fear of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to get an early diagnosis. This enables a patient to set up a support system so that they can enjoy quality of life. Additionally, it helps you or your loved one to make vital decisions while still able.

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