The Face of an Epidemic

Winter brings holidays, chilly weather, and basketball season. In Connecticut, collegiate women’s basketball is a source of pride and joy for thousands of residents. Countless fans across the nation are familiar with the name Pat Summitt. She is known as one of the best coaches in collegiate women’s basketball, having led the University of Tennessee Lady Vols to eight NCAA championships. Summitt is also considered to be one of the best basketball coaches of all time, garnering more wins than any other coach in division 1 history. Her career was defined by strength, toughness, and victory.

It is now also defined by her courageous decision to publically announce in 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Now in retirement, Summitt penned a 2013 memoir called Sum It Up, which reflects on her memories of the past and her thoughts about her next chapter. She outlines her knowledge of her cognitive changes and growing concerns from friends and family members around the time of her diagnosis. Summitt, a face of a fighting spirit on the basketball court, bravely offers a first-hand account of what it was like to live a life away from the public eye, and battling a devastating disease. She writes, “Have you ever walked along a shoreline, only to have your footprints washed away by the surf? That’s what Alzheimer’s is like. The waves steadily erase the marks we leave in the sand, all the sand castles. Some days are better than others—the waves come in and they recede, bringing a fog with them that sometimes clears.”

Dementia is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, and the only one that cannot be prevented, slowed, or cured. There is still an unfortunate trend of misdiagnosis; therefore increased community education is imperative. The epidemic is also characterized by growing costs. Dementia care costs will rise in the United States from $226 billion in 2015 to an estimated $1.1 trillion by 2050. A health care crisis may be present within both private homes and institutionalized settings.

Raising funds to improve ongoing research and awareness is done through several initiatives spearheaded by the National Alzheimer’s Association. For example, they recently generated a petition to raise awareness of the disease to the candidates in the upcoming presidential election. To learn more about opportunities for fundraising near you, visit www.act.alz.org.

Attorneys focusing on elder law work closely with, and advocate for, individuals and families who are faced with the challenge of both new diagnoses and worsening conditions. At the young age of 20 years old, Summitt’s son Tyler was thrust into the role of caregiver and one his first steps was to meet with an attorney. It is a goal of Weatherby & Associates, PC to develop personalized planning to help reduce the negative impact dementia has on families of all types. For more about our practice, call us at 860-769-6938.

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