Pat Summitt raised awareness about early onset dementia - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Pat Summitt raised awareness about early onset dementia

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Legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt dies at the age of 64. (WFSB) Legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt dies at the age of 64. (WFSB)
HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

Pat Summitt put women's basketball on the map...and did the same with her fight against early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

She was a legendary coach, who faced her disease with the same courage she displayed on the court, as head coach for the University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball team.

Summitt died Tuesday morning at the age of 64, but the awareness she has brought to the disease will continue on in the funding of research through her foundation.

"She also took Alzheimer’s to a new level because she didn't get diagnosed and go away. She put a face to it,” said Patty O’Brian, who is an Alzheimer’s and dementia specialist for the Hartford Healthcare Center for Healthy Aging.

"The one true thing we know about Alzheimer’s is it is progressive, so when someone is first diagnosed we see signs like memory loss, and that's recent memory,” O’Brian said.

As the disease progresses, there can be a change in personality, before a patient loses the ability to swallow or even walk.

While Summitt lost her fight with the disease after about five years, O’Brian says it's extremely difficult to tell patients and their families how long they have to live.

"Statistically its 8-12 years, but I have patients here at the center that are still living with it 20 plus years,” O’Brian said.

Despite losing her life, Summitt has left an indelible mark on basketball and the world through the Pat Summitt Foundation, which has already raised millions of money for research, and will continue to do so for years to come.

In a tweet...her fiercest rivals, the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team said "Thank you for being the pioneer. Thank you for defining greatness. Thank you. Rest in peace, Coach Summitt."

For more information on the Hartford Healthcare Center for Healthy Aging, click here or call 1-877-424-4641.

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