By Ben A. Neiburger, Attorney, Generation Law

When basketball coach Pat Summitt passed away in June of 2016, the sports world lost a legend. But Alzheimer’s awareness also lost one of its most public advocates.

In the sports world, Summitt brought the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball squad to eight national championships. As head coach she won 1,098 games, more than any other Division I coach, man or woman. Essentially, she was an icon in college sports.

She was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 59.  And in announcing it, vowed that there would be no pity party in her future.

To that end, she continued to make herself accessible to media and the public about how the disease was affecting her and what she was doing to deal with it.

Summitt was clear-eyed about how this would end for her but determined to educate others about the disease. She continued doing interviews and addressed the issue in her 2014 book, Sum It Up. She also started the Pat Summitt foundation, committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Many Alzheimer’s patients choose to remove themselves from public view after their diagnosis, which is entirely understandable. They want friends and loved ones to remember them as they were and retain as much of their dignity as they can in their final years.

Public figures like singer Glen Campbell and Pat Summitt chose a different path and in doing so they give my clients and, of course, all of the country an opportunity to learn more about the 4 million Americans suffering with the disease.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is devastating. And its effects reverberate through family and friends because for many of us, it’s our greatest fear. There are some who choose to remain engaged in the world until the disease completely claims their faculties and for that we are grateful. Hopefully such examples reduce the fear of this admittedly horrible disease. It seems clear that was Pat Summitt’s intention. Her example is part of a growing understanding of the disease and her considerable sports legacy aside, she proved a champion in this, as well.

If you or a loved one are in your 50s or older, this would be a good time to contact an elder law attorney to ensure that your will and powers of attorney are up to date and clear on how you want to be treated in the case of any diagnosis of a terminal disease.

Updated 3-18-2024
Originally published 7-5-2016