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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pat Summitt’s Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

When Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, announced that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 59, many were stunned. Even more surprising was that she said she would keep working, hopefully for at least another 3 years.

Typically, Alzheimer’s is seen in people over the age of 65, and usually much later than that. When the disease strikes before age 65, it’s called early-onset Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, it’s not common. Only about 5% of people with Alzheimer’s are under 65.

People with early-onset Alzheimer’s can continue to work as long as they, their employer, and their doctor feel they are able. However, the condition is progressive and eventually the dementia will be too severe to allow someone to meet the needs of their job.

How long does that take? It’s too variable to tell. Will Summitt be able to work for three more years? Even Summitt’s doctors don’t know.

Time will tell. But someone with early Alzheimer’s can live an active life, as Summitt is doing.

However, she is reportedly already facing some challenges at work, including some difficulty with making quick on-the-court decisions. Her job is obviously mentally challenging, which will factor into how long she can continue to meet the high demands.

What causes early-onset Alzheimer’s? As with most cases of Alzheimer’s, there is no known cause. Some people with early Alzheimer’s have a gene that directly causes the condition. This is quite rare, though.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is difficult for both the individual and loved ones. The doctors and staff at WebMD wish Summitt and her family all the best as they face the challenges of the coming years.

Posted by: Michael Smith, MD at 2:34 pm


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