PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – On Tuesday, basketball coach Pat Summitt died at the age of 64. She announced 5 years ago that she had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s a scary diagnosis that can happen to anyone, even those in their 30’s and 40’s.
About 5 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease have the early-onset form. Alzheimer’s is marked by more serious cognitive decline, it’s something that hundreds of thousands of families struggle with.
George Beschen says his dad always admired coach Summitt.
“He found her inspiring,” George said.
Beyond their love of basketball, they both had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“I just feel for her family and know what they must be feeling right now.”
George’s dad died just 2 weeks ago. He was a Philly school teacher, who loved tennis and his family. He was only 61.
And for 12 years they watched him fade away.
“It’s been called the long goodbye. I think of it also as the long hello. We had to say hello to a new person essentially, we had to say hello to reserves of strengths that we didn’t know we had.” George said discussing his father George senior.
Julie Thomas with the Alzheimer’s Association works with patients under age 65 who have early onset Alzheimer’s.
“It makes a huge impact on the entire family,” she said. “I see them struggle with losing their jobs and worrying about being a burden to their families.”
Julie says she’s grateful to Pat Summitt for announcing to the world her diagnosis. It helped raise awareness, but the sad reality remains unchanged.
“There’s medication to help enhance a person’s cognition but there is no real treatment.”
George’s dad didn’t have any of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s like heart disease. It can also be genetic.
“I have worried, I’m 46 and if I follow his route I have 12 good years.”
Someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. Experts say when diagnosed early it can sometimes be slowed down and there are resources to help families make plans.
To learn more about the disease, click here.