Pat Summitt's Death Shines Spotlight On Alzheimer's Disease

June 28, 2016

Pat Summitt News
Pat Summitt, the former Tennessee women's basketball coach who won more games than any other coach (male or female) in college basketball history, died this morning after a five-year fight with Alzheimer's disease.

Summitt, 64, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's in the summer of 2011, then left the Tennessee program in August 2012 after 38 seasons, 1,098 victories and eight national championships. Shortly after her diagnosis, she formed the Pat Summitt Foundation to help find a cure for Alzheimer's.

"Competition got me off the farm and trained me to seek out challenges and to endure setbacks; and in combination with my faith, it sustains me now in my fight with Alzheimer’s disease," she said in a statement that accompanied the release of her memoir in 2013.

Aside from characteristic memory failure, Alzheimer's affects higher brain functions and learning. Complications can include heart attacks, atherosclerosis, hypertension, strokes, kidney failure and lung infections.

"As Alzheimer's advances through the brain," says Patricia O'Brian, the patient and family engagement coordinator for the Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, "it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking."

Summit and others diagnosed before age 65 are considered early (or younger) onset. It's relatively rare, with 200,000 cases nationwide. More than 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer's were diagnosed at age 65 or older.

"After her diagnosis," says O'Brian, "she became a new champion -- working to raise awareness and critical research funds in the fight to end Alzheimer’s."

Do you know your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder? Here is a quick screen, so you can learn your risk factors and see what you can do to minimize your risk.

  • Do you have more memory lapses than you did five years ago?
  • Have you experienced sad moods for more than two weeks?
  • Have you had changes in your sleep habits?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Do you have a first-degree relative (parent/brother/sister) with dementia or Down syndrome?
  • Have you ever had a head injury or loss of consciousness for more than 5 minutes?
  • Are you being treated for cholesterol problems, high blood pressure or diabetes?
  • Are you more than 20 percent over your ideal weight?
  • Do you have stress on a regular basis?
  • Could you have a vitamin deficiency (B12, thiamine) or thyroid disorder?
  • Are you over age 65?


Yes answers:

0-2: Minimal Risk
3-5: Moderate Risk
6-10: High risk

Determine which of your risk factors are modifiable and learn what you can do today to minimize your risk of getting dementia.

For more information, visit The Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging. Or contact one of the Center's four locations:

The Hospital of Central Connecticut at Bradley Memorial
Toll Free: 800.273.0078
Phone: 860.276.5293

The Hospital of Central Connecticut at New Britain General
Toll Free: 877.4AGING1
Phone: 860.224.5278

MidState Medical Center
Phone: 203.694.5721
Fax: 203.694.5910

Windham Hospital
Phone: 860.456.6784

Resources & Support 

Dementia resources from the Institute of Living Family Resource Center: 860.545.7665 or 860.545.1888.

Dementia Education and Support Group: Please join us as we bring together experts and those who want guidance, direction, and support through this journey. Let’s work together, help each other and exchange ideas.

First Tuesday of every month: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Institute of Living Donnelly Conference Room, first floor.
Dates: July 5, Aug 2, Sept 6, Oct 4, Nov 1, Dec 6

Space is limited, reservations are required.

RSVP to 860.545.7665.

Hartford HealthCare Press Contact

  • Shawn Mawhiney
    Director of Communications