Dementia is all too often a part of getting older. In fact more than fifty percent of people over the age of 85 are negotiating with the disease. Pat Summit, the 59 year old legend of a coach and one of the most winning coaches in all of sport has made public her battle with early onset dementia as she prepares to keep pushing and continue to coach the Lady Vols. This early onset affects 5 percent of people under the age of 65.
According to the Mayo Clinc, where Summit first went for a brain function analysis, if 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's, at least 200,000 people have the early-onset form of the disease. Early-onset Alzheimer's has been known to develop between ages 30 and 40, but that's very uncommon. It's more common to see someone in his or her 50s who has the disease.
This ailment is often genetic and many people with early-onset Alzheimer's have a parent or grandparent who also developed Alzheimer's at a younger age. A significant proportion of early-onset Alzheimer's is linked to three genes.
These three genes are different from the APOE gene, which is the gene that can increase your risk of Alzheimer's in general. The genetic path of inheritance is much stronger in early-onset Alzheimer's. If you have a genetic mutation in one of those three genes, the APP, PSEN 1 or PSEN 2, it would be common for you to develop Alzheimer's before age 65.
In a statement released Tuesday by the university, the 59-year-old Hall of Fame coach said she's been diagnosed with early onset dementia, which could lead to Alzheimer's. Summitt said she plans to coach the Lady Vols during the 2011-12 season, but she admitted she may have some limitations.
Click HERE for a video from the Associated Press documenting the surprising announcement.
Dr. Sam Gandy, an associate director at Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City, said the prevalence of Alzheimer's is "exploding" due to the aging of the baby boomer generation.
"Six million people have the disease now and that will double or triple in the next few years. Right now, we now spend about a penny for every $3.50 we spend on care. The investment into research is very low and dwindling, less than 1 percent of the whole National Institutes of Health budget goes to Alzheimer's disease."
There's an estimated 6 million people living with Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to rise. That's why experts like Gandy say it's imperative to start pouring more money into research.
John Morris, a physician and director at the Alzheimer's disease research center at Washington University in St. Louis said about Summits openness in dealing with the disease:
"She deserves tremendous credit for announcing her illness. This underscores the point that people who are not older can also get dementia. It is key for others to know by recognizing and diagnosing early."
There's a perception early onset dementia moves faster and progresses at a greater rate on the timeline, but it's not backed up by hard data. It depends on what endpoint you're using in your measurement. For example, people who have early onset Alzheimer's often still have children at home. They or their spouses or partners may have elderly parents that need care, too. Often, people may find themselves overwhelmed with caring for elderly parents, the loved one with early-onset Alzheimer's and their children all at the same time.
Fortunately, resources are available to support people with Alzheimer's to care for themselves and function on their own as long as possible. Many resources are also available for caregivers whose support can be essential when dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's.
Written by Sy Kraft