Legendary Tennessee Volunteers coach Pat Summitt -- who coached the women's basketball team for nearly four decades and is considered the sport's "winningest coach" -- announced her decision to step aside as head coach today (April 18), according to news reports. Summitt, 59, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia-Alzheimer's type less than a year ago,.
"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," Summitt told the Associated Press.
The AP also reported that the dementia has been causing memory problems for Summitt. She has established the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund to raise money for Alzheimer's awareness, services and research.
Early-onset dementia is named such because it occurs in people younger than age 65. The Mayo Clinic reported that about 5 percent of people with Alzheimer's experience symptoms before they reach age 65 -- about 200,000 people -- meaning they likely had early-onset Alzheimer's.
The Alzheimer's Foundation reported that people with early-onset Alzheimer's usually start experiencing symptoms in their 40s or 50s. While for some people the cause of this early-onset condition is unknown, researchers have identified three genes that do seem directly linked with Alzheimer's. People with these genes are more likely to develop Alzheimer's symptoms at younger ages, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation.
For that reason, the Mayo Clinic pointed out that people with a family history of early-onset dementia might consider genetic counseling and/or testing for the disease -- though it's a personal decision.
For example, it may be helpful to consider how a positive test may affect your eligibility for long term care, disability and life insurance. On the other hand, if you know you carry a form of the early-onset genes, you may be able to take steps to make it easier for you and your loved ones to cope with the effects of the disease.
The Alzheimer's Association said that people with early-onset Alzheimer's may want to consider working as long as they are able to. However, they may want to talk to their employer about having accommodations made or taking a leave of absence if things become overwhelming.
Meanwhile, for overall health, the Alzheimer's Association recommends going to the doctor regularly, getting good rest, exercising regularly (as long as your doctor has given approval), eating healthily, not drinking too much, taking your medicines, maintaining social contact with others, and trying to cut stress out of your life.
For more information on how to cope with early-onset Alzheimer's, click over to the Alzheimer's Foundation website.
Summitt is not the only face of early-onset dementia. Actress Rita Hayworth also had early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which she developed at age 42, according to IMDB. And actor Seth Rogen has been outspoken about his support for Alzheimer's awareness, since his own mother-in-law has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, PsychCentral reported.