Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt Has Early Onset Dementia - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt Has Early Onset Dementia

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Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt watches practice for an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional semifinal, Friday, March 25, 2011 in Dayton, Ohio. Tennessee plays Ohio State on Saturday. (AP Photo) Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt watches practice for an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional semifinal, Friday, March 25, 2011 in Dayton, Ohio. Tennessee plays Ohio State on Saturday. (AP Photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

In a statement from Summitt released by the university on Tuesday the Hall of Fame coach said she plans to coach the Lady Vols during the 2011-12 season, but may have some "limitations."

Summitt is entering her 38th season as the head coach of the Lady Vols basketball team, but last year things started to feel different for Summitt.

She told the Knoxville News Sentinel that there were some mornings she would wake up and not even want to go in to work. Summitt wasn't sure what was wrong with her and at times she was drawing blanks.

In May, she visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After a series of thorough tests Summit was diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Summitt does not plan on speaking about her condition in the near future, but she released a video statement Tuesday.

She met with the Lady Volunteers on Tuesday afternoon to inform them of the diagnosis.

Summitt has coached 37 seasons at Tennessee and has 1,071 career victories and eight national championships.

There has been a history of dementia in Summitt's family. Her maternal grandmother suffered from severe dementia.

Her doctors have come up with a plan that involves mental activities for Summitt, and that includes reading and doing puzzles at night before she goes to sleep.

With Summitt's plans to continue coaching, some may wonder how or if the diagnosis will affect her ability to coach.

Dr. Jim Powers is a Geriatrician with Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He has not treated Summitt, but said dementia is very unpredictable.

"The treatments that are available are medications that slow the progression (of dementia). By that we mean it delays the deterioration of memory, of cognitive function and it enhances the person's ability to maintain a normal lifestyle," said Dr. Powers.

Dementia, similar to Alzheimer's disease, attacks the brain's cells destroying parts of the brain that deal with memory and the ability to understand.

"How fast this progresses is just an unknown thing. For most individuals, it's a slow process over many, many years and I hope that is the case for the coach," he said.

Dr. Powers said it seems Summitt is dealing with a more common form of dementia, one usually associated with age.  There's no way to predict how or when it will affect her ability to lead the Lady Vols.

"It probably won't affect her. She will probably enjoy being out in the game," Dr. Powers explained.

But the reality of this disease is that there is no cure, and it will continue to progress.

"It's often the short term memory that is first affected unfortunately. Longer term memory is better reserved, but it is also affected as time goes on," Dr. Powers added.

Researchers are still trying to understanding dementia, but there is limited knowledge of why it attacks the brain cells.

Doctors said about ten percent of people over the age of 65 are affected with some form of dementia. Staying physically healthy and keeping their blood pressure down also helps with dealing with the diagnosis.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)

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