Pat Summitt retired earlier this month as head coach of women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee, telling family, fans and friends it had been a “great ride” leading the Lady Vols to eight national titles in her 38 seasons.
Summitt’s decision to step down from her coaching job comes nearly eight months after she announced she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
She is set to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Obama later this year. The president called Summitt an “inspiration,” not just for being an amazing coach, but also for her willingness to “speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer’s.”
Summitt’s story has struck a chord with many who know all too well the challenges she now faces. That’s because they are among the Tennesseans who are now caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers say more than 26 million people are living with Alzheimer’s — a progressive disease that robs patients of their most precious memories and intellect before finally claiming their lives. But it is not only those who are afflicted with this insidious disease who suffer. So do their spouses, children and other family members who often serve as primary caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients.
Alzheimer’s takes a heavy toll on caregivers, many of whom are still working full time and raising children. These care providers are subject to great stress that can lead to their own health problems.
Thankfully, there are support groups in the area that can lend a hand to those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent place to learn about these services. Call the association’s local chapter at 928-4080, or go online at www.alz.org/altn to find out more.