Pat Summitt has a game plan—do you?
Summitt, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2011, has decided to relinquish her title as head coach of the University of Tennessee women's basketball team.
"It's never a good time, but you have to find a time that you think is right," Summitt said in a news conference where she officially passed her whistle to long-time assistant head coach, Holly Warlick.
While she may be passing the torch, the winningest coach in NCAA history is not done running the race.
The university has announced that Summitt will take on the role of head coach emeritus, acting as a mentor to the future young women who decide to don the orange and blue.
Summitt is luckier than most people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's because she still has a defined, concrete role to play. Her life continues to be filled with the mental and social stimulation that research has shown to be key to the management of the disease.
In short, she's got a game plan—one that she hopes will allow her and her loved ones to, "have a good fight," against the disease.
While the majority of people with early-onset Alzheimer's may not have the wonderful opportunity that Summitt has, options are available to help them and their loved ones find comfort and meaning, in spite of their diagnosis.
Sue Maxwell, Director of Older Adult Services for Lee Health System in Southwest Florida, says that people in the beginning stages of the disease are often handed a diagnosis and little else. The person goes home and nothing happens for months, sometimes even years.
Lee Memorial's MindSet Program is one of several pilot initiatives across the country that is seeking to change this stark reality.
The MindSet Program offers people recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and their caregivers a variety of educational and support programs to help them in the beginning stages of the disease.
Caregivers are encouraged to attend classes with their loved ones, which offer things such as brain exercises for the cognitively impaired as well as advice and tips to help both parties navigate the course of this progressive disease.
Maxwell says that one of the most startling pieces of feedback that she's gotten from participants is that the care receivers gain a better understanding of what their caregivers go through on a day-to-day basis to provide care for them.
Preliminary results of the MindSet program, which has provided education and resources to over 150 patients and their caregivers, have been promising.
Maxwell hopes that a nationwide intervention model will be developed and implemented, giving caregivers and their loved ones a solid plan of action for handling the challenges of early-onset Alzheimer's.
On June 28, 2016, only five years after her diagnosis, Pat Summitt lost her battle with dementia at Sherrill Hills Senior Living Community in Knoxville, TN. She was 64 years old.