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Pat Summitt says dementia diagnosis won't keep her off court

(CBS) Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history, has faced her share of adversaries on the court. Now she's facing an off-the-court battle that might be her toughest challenge yet.

Summitt, the 59-year-old coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

In a dramatic video statement on the Tennessee Athletics website, Summitt said she noticed strange symptoms last year, like forgetting meetings, so she consulted the Mayo Clinic where she was given her diagnosis.

"For Pat to stand-up and share her health news is just a continuing example of her courage," Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan told the Associated Press. "Life is an unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for; excellence, strength, honesty and courage."

Dementia that strikes before age 65 is considered early-onset Alzheimer's, according to the Mayo Clinic. It constitutes about 5 percent of Alzheimer's diagnoses - striking about 200,000 people per year. Alzheimer's progressively destroys memory and cognition, eventually making it impossible to carry out the simplest tasks of everyday life. Doctors don't know what causes Alzheimer's, but suspect that heredity and "lifestyle factors" like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions, play a role

How much time does Summitt have left? No one knows for sure, but early-onset patients typically live another 15 to 20 years following diagnosis, according to Rush University Medical Center.

"People with early onset are going to have to plan for the disease for a long time," Dr. David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, said in a Rush written statement. "For spouses as well, it has a different impact on your marriage in the middle of life than when you're old."

Just as Summitt stated her intentions to remain as head coach, the Alzheimer's Association also recommends people diagnosed with early-onset dementia work as long as they and their doctors feel they can, and use a daily planner and other memory aids to organize job details. Diagnosed patients should get regular check-ups, exercise regularly, adopt a healthy diet, cut down on alcohol -which can worsen symptoms - and reduce stress, and rest when tired.

As for Summitt, she's not ready to turn hang up her whistle just yet.

"I'm not going to let this keep me from coaching," Summitt told the Washington Post. "There's no pity party, I'll make sure of that."

The Alzheimer's Association has more information.

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