Womens Health

Pat Summitt Diagnosed With Alzheimer's, Will Continue to Coach Women's Basketball

| by Michael Allen

University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who has more wins than anyone else in college basketball history, has been diagnosed with early onset dementia (Alzheimer's). She was told by a doctor to retire because of her diagnosis, but the 59-year-old responded with: "Do you know who you're dealing with?"

Summitt, who has won eight national championships, wrote an open letter to the university community Tuesday: "I plan to continue to be your coach. Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days. For that reason, I will be relying on my outstanding coaching staff like never before."

In a recently released video, she explained her condition and what it means for her future.

In her open letter, Summitt said that she planned to give more responsibility to her assistants: "We have always collaborated on every facet of Lady Vol basketball, and now you will see Holly Warlick, Dean Lockwood and Mickie DeMoss taking on more responsibility as their duties will change significantly."

After experiencing several months of erratic behavior, Summitt went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she was tested and told she had the early Alzheimer’s type dementia. She announced the news today, which shocked the collegiate basketball world.

Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey reacted, "Pat Summitt is our John Wooden. No matter how many national championships (other coaches) win, there will never be another Pat."

John Thompson, former men's coach at Georgetown University, said on his radio show Tuesday afternoon, "She's simply one of the best." Thompson added that she could have succeeded in coaching men's teams.

Summitt’s record is 1,071 wins and 199 losses. The wins are the most for a basketball coach at any four-year college or university, men’s or women’s. Her mantle also includes and an Olympic gold medal.

Summitt’s eight titles are the most among NCAA Division I women’s coaches and second only to the late John Wooden’s 12, among all NCAA coaches. Summitt also has 18 Final Four appearances, the most among all Division I coaches (men or women).

The legendary coach is moving forward with medication and mental activities, such as reading and doing puzzles. Alzheimer's is incurable, but several drugs can help control symptoms. Early symptoms include forgetfulness, personality changes and poor judgment.

Dr. John Morris, a physician and director of the Alzheimer’s disease research center at Washington University in St. Louis, said: “She deserves tremendous credit for announcing her illness. This under scores the point that people who are not older can also get dementia. It is key for others to know by recognizing and diagnosing early she, and others, can still function at a very high level for some time to come.”