Legendary Coach Pat Summitt Stares Down Dementia


Can Summitt Beat Fatal Disease?

The job's duties, said Dr. Sam Gandy, "are often just the opposite of what you would prescribe for someone with Alzheimer's disease."

Gandy, an expert in Alzheimer's disease at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, is blunt in his explanation of the typical Alzheimer's prognosis.

"This is a fatal disease. This is like cancer. This kills people by robbing them of their cortex of the brain, the surface of the brain that's used for thinking," he said.

The average time from "diagnosis to death," he said, is 10 years.

But even he sees a silver lining for Summitt.

"Certainly in many diseases, having an upbeat outlook, trying to maintain a positive view of things does seem to effect the prognosis. So I think she should do what she wants to do. She should go for what she wants to go for," he said.

Summitt says she sees dementia as a beatable opponent.

She takes medication to combat the degenerative effects of dementia and, in addition to coaching, keeps her mind active by solving puzzles on her iPad.

"You've got a have self-discipline," Summitt said. "With this dementia situation, I know what I have to do and I'm going to do it every day."

Summitt isn't doing it by herself. She's got a lot of people behind her, including her son Tyler.

"Through thick and thin, we take care of each other," he said. "We protect each other."

But Tyler said he's also thankful for the support his mom has received from her staff and friends.

"We're really blessed to have everybody in our circle," he said.

Warlick, who has worked with Summitt for 25 years, admitted that she has seen the coach slow down and that, she said, is hard to watch.

"But Pat handles it," she said. "I look at her and go, 'Wow, I don't know how she does it. So I think it's harder on us than it is on her."

The coach, meanwhile, hasn't lost her sense of humor.

"She told our kids two things," Warlick said. "She says, 'I'm going to remember your name. And I'm still going to yell at you."

Watch the full story on "20/20"

Learn more about Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...