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Coach Summitt's Diagnosis Puts Spotlight on Early-Onset Alzheimer's
Date:8/25/2011

id. Research has shown that many people with Alzheimer's also have vascular changes in the brain.

To combat that, "it makes good sense to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle," he said.

Those who are intelligent and educated also have brain "reserves" that they can use to cope with the brain degeneration and continue to function, at least for a time, Kennedy said.

"They have the software to compensate for what's happening to the hardware in the brain," Kennedy said.

And although the disease is relentless and people continue to lose memory and thinking abilities, there is often time before that happens to work, to accomplish things and to enjoy life, Arvanitakis added.

"If you're the type of person who is energetic and wants to fight it and do everything possible, we do have patients that live with this diagnosis for many years and continue to lead a fulfilling and productive life," she said.

Summitt is nothing if not determined. She's won more victories than any other college coach, men's or women's, and eight national titles. According to news reports, Summitt has said she does not believe her symptoms are severe enough for her to step down as coach, and that her goal is to coach at least three more years, if possible.

She also told her team about her condition, according to the Washington Post.

"I just want them to understand that this is what I'm going through, but you don't quit living," she said. "You keep going."

Experts praised Summitt for sharing her struggle with the public.

"When you're a very public figure and you share something so personal like your own illness, it brings attention to it, and bringing attention to this devastating illness might benefit others," Arvanitakis said. "It could mean more research will be done on it. It will be recognized earlier and people could have access to treatment earlier."

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