Part 2: Celebrities with Alzheimer’s Disease- Pat Summitt

EDementialder Law

According the National Institute on Aging, there are estimated to be between 2.4 million and 4.5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s. One third of all seniors in America die with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Deaths from Alzheimer’s have risen by 68% from 2000 to 2010.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gets worse as it develops. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, although there are ways of slowing down its advance and helping patients with some of the symptoms. Alzheimer’s is also a terminal disease that is classified into several stages. A common framework includes 1. Pre-Dementia Stage. 2. Mild Alzheimer’s Stage. 3. Moderate Alzheimer’s Stage. 4. Severe Alzheimer’s Stage. Most patients take from 8 to 10 years to progress through all the stages. However, some may live for 20 years after neuron changes first occur.

Alzheimer’s Disease does not discriminate.  People from all walks of life are diagnosed every day, including well-known celebrities and politicians. In this series, we will look at three celebrities and their fights with Alzheimer’s, including the 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Lady Volunteers basketball coach Pat Summitt, and country singer Glenn Campbell. Last week, we talked about Ronald Reagan’s fight with Alzheimers, and today, we will focus on Pat Summitt.

No coach in college basketball history — men’s or women’s — has won more games than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.  In 38 seasons, she guided the Lady Vols to eight NCAA championships. Her program produced 19 State Farm All-Americans, 12 Olympians, and more than three dozen professional players. Tennessee is the only women’s team to play in the NCAA tournament every year since its inception in 1982. Despite her continued success, Summitt stepped aside last year at age 59 due to her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and has spent much of her time since building awareness and raising money for Alzheimer’s research.

Part 2: Pat Summitt

Patricia Sue Summitt (nee Head) was born on June 14, 1952 in Clarksville, Tennessee to the late Richard (died in 2005) and Hazel Head. She has four siblings: older brothers Tommy, Charles and Kenneth, and a younger sister, Linda.  Her brother Kenneth describes how growing up, the family loved sports and the children “worked hard” on the farm and “played equally as hard.” According to Summitt, her “days on the farm gave her the determination and grit needed to forge through challenges in life.”

Growing up, Summitt’s dad treated her no differently from her three older brothers, which goes a long way toward explaining her toughness, determination and competitiveness. He also never hugged her until she was 43 and already a three-time NCAA champion. When Summitt was in high school, her family moved to nearby Henrietta, so she could play basketball in Cheatham County because Clarksville did not have a girls team. From there, she went to University of Tennessee at Martin where she won All-American honors, playing for UT–Martin’s first women’s basketball coach, Nadine Gearin. In 1970, with the passage of Title IX still two years away, there were no athletic scholarships for women. Each of her brothers had gotten an athletic scholarship, but her parents had to pay her way to college. In describing her time as a basketball player at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Summit says, “We played at Tennessee Tech for three straight games, and we didn’t wash our uniforms. We only had one set. We played because we loved the game. We didn’t think anything about it.”

Just before the 1974–75 season, with women’s college basketball still in its infancy and not yet an NCAA-sanctioned sport, 22-year-old Summitt became a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee, and was named head coach of the Lady Vols after the previous coach suddenly quit. Summitt earned $250 monthly and washed the players’ uniforms – uniforms purchased the previous year with proceeds from a donut sale. She later co-captained the first United States women’s national basketball team as a player at the inaugural women’s tournament at the 1976 Summer Olympics, winning the silver medal.

In 1980, Patricia married R. B. Summitt. Four years later, with her husband on the sidelines as one of her biggest supporters, Summitt coached the U.S. women’s team to an Olympic gold medal, becoming the first U.S. Olympian to win a basketball medal and coach a medal-winning team. After six miscarraiges, she gave birth to Ross “Tyler” Summitt in 1990. Nearly born during a recruiting trip, Tyler Summitt was already in cahoots with his mother in utero. “My bedtime story was my mom screaming in the living room watching game film,” he said. “That’s just how it was growing up.” At the time, his mother’s program was at its pinnacle: No. 1 in the ratings that season by 13 percentage points over the No. 2 show. Patricia and R.B. Summitt became separated in 2006, and after 27 years of marriage, their divorce was finalized in 2007. Following in his mother’s footsteps, Tyler is now an assistant coach at Marquette in Milwaukee, embarking on his own career path.

Throughout her career, Summitt became widely known as one of the toughest coaches in college basketball history, men’s or women’s. She finished her coaching career with 1,098 wins in 1,306 games coached in AIAW and NCAA Division I play. No other Division I basketball head coach, men’s or women’s, has more than 1,000 career wins as of the end of the 2011-12 season.

In August 2011, Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed three months earlier with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the diagnosis, she did complete the 2011-2012 season, but with a reduced role, while longtime assistant Holly Warlick, an assistant under Summitt since 1985, assumed most of the responsibilities.

After the season, which ended with the Lady Vols losing to the eventual unbeaten national champion Baylor Lady Bears in the Elite Eight in Des Moines, on April 18, 2012, Pat Summitt officially stepped down as head coach, ending her 38-year coaching career. Warlick was named Summitt’s successor. Summitt was given the title Head Coach Emeritus upon her resignation. According to NCAA regulations, as head coach emeritus, she will be able to attend practices and assist Warlick in some duties, but will not be allowed to sit on the team bench. In a statement following her diagnosis, Summitt said:

“My life experiences, combined with my faith, sustain me now in my fight against Alzheimer’s disease. As with everything in life, I play to win. With the help of my son, Tyler, I continue to take on our newest opponent, early onset dementia. We are playing to win! We have created the Pat Summitt Foundation as a vehicle to do just that — to compete on a national level. We are recruiting a team of advisers, in both business and science, who will powerfully fight on the front lines of science and caregiving initiatives.

Whether competing on the basketball court or against Alzheimer’s disease, it takes teamwork to win. Teamwork allows common people to obtain uncommon results (Put the Team Before Yourself).

The defeat of Alzheimer’s disease will be credited to doctors across the globe who are investing countless hours exploring every avenue to find a cure. It will be credited to caregivers who are meeting the needs of Alzheimer’s patients each day. It will be credited to every person who donates to Alzheimer’s research.”

In 2012, Summitt wrote the book “Sum It Up” with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. The book describes how her upbringing helped her to develop a balanced coaching style and describes her battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

That same year, Summitt started the Pat Summit Foundation to promote awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and she has been instrumental in educating others about Alzheimer’s and in her fundraising efforts. She received the 2012 Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award from the Alzheimer’s Association for the work she has done with the Pat Summitt Foundation. This honor recognizes an individual, organization or company whose actions have promoted greater understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on diagnosed individuals, families and caregivers.

This past Sunday, September 1, in the pregame ceremony before the start of the New York Yankees afternoon game against the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees were joined by Pat Summitt and her son Tyler to help launch the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Worldwide Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.” Representatives from the Alzheimer Association were also on the field for the launch.



Although a great deal of research has been done and is currently being done on the possible causes of Alzheimer’s, experts are still not sure why the brain cells deteriorate. However, several factors including age, family history, gender (more women than men), head injuries, academic level, stress, chronic depression, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol and poorly controlled diabetes are known to be linked to a higher risk of developing the disease. Read our Everything Elder Law blog, as we are always pleased to report any updates on new research, discoveries, and treatments for Alzheimer’s as we find out about them.

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s? Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firms of Evan H. Farr, P.C. we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Call us today at 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a complimentary consultation.



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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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