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Coach Pat Summitt’s Career Cut Short by Alzheimer’s

Even if you’ve never followed women’s college basketball, you may be familiar with longtime University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt. Her firebrand nature and fearless leadership style have made her a living legend. This week, after 38 years, she stepped down from head coaching duties due to Alzheimer’s disease.

In August 2011, the 59-year-old coach went public with her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Summitt’s declining cognitive abilities affected her capacity to coach effectively. Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty with communication and impaired judgment.

According to the Honor Society of Nursing, family history, advancing age, smoking and diabetes are among the conditions that can increase the risk for dementia. Summitt has said in interviews that her grandmother suffered from dementia.

Lowering Your Risk
You can’t do much about a family history of dementia, but you can still take steps to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Here are four tips.

1. Take fish oil supplements and stay active, says Dr. Michael Roizen.
2. Play games like ping-pong, says Dr. Mehmet Oz. Games that require quick thinking and hand-eye coordination can improve cognitive function.
3. Banish the belly fat. An expanding waistline can double your risk of dementia in your 70s, says Dr. Oz.
4. Keep your cholesterol in check, says Harvard neurologist Dr. Rudy Tanzi.

Aerobic exercise may also help prevent Alzheimer’s, and Summitt inspired a generation of girls to exercise. She taught them they could be strong athletes—and now she is teaching the rest of us how to deal with Alzheimer’s with grace.

In this tough economy, would you quit work if you started showing signs of dementia?  Let us know in the comments box below.


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Joy Johnston

Joy Johnston is a Senior Web Producer at Sharecare. She has been an online journalist since 2002, working for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, About.com and AOL CityGuide. She has become gluten-free savvy since being diagnosed as gluten-intolerant in 2005. Favorite exercise: long walks in the park. Health vice: soy lattes.

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