Earlier this week the world and I learned that Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early dementia, Alzheimer's type. Since the story broke, there has been a lot of chatter from Lady Vols fans, Coach Summitt admirers, and no doubt some degrees of misplaced glee from the Summitt-haters. I've read some interesting articles about her since this news broke, including some that seem to be like tributes. Pat Summitt has had an astonishing career and has made a remarkable impact not only on women's basketball, but on women's sports.
I have my own weird fascination not only because I'm a bigtime Lady Vols fan, but because my stepfather has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. My siblings and I worry about him, but we also worry about my mom, about her state of mind and her condition of mind. Suddenly, information about dementia, early or otherwise, has become a part of my everyday life. Suddenly, not only do I need to know more about dementia--all of its types, but I need to understand the symptoms, how to behave around and react to (or not react to), how not to overreact or read subtexts that don't exist.
Suddenly I have to be that much more careful not to make an assumption about a behavior, not to take anything out of context but be sure I have some clarity and understanding of what preceded and what followed, and not to assume something is symptomatic. I have to take more time to assess and think. It is not about me, but this will be quite the test of my patience.
Since the news about Pat Summitt broke, cyberspace has been chattering about dementia, celebrities with dementia, how to recognize the symptoms, what to do when one is around a dementia patient, etc. If it weren't Hurricane Irene pushing her way into the headlines, there might be a lot more stories circulating, which might be encouraging or quite possibly overwhelming.
While my stepdad hails from Tennessee, he's not Pat Summitt. He doesn't have a team of physicians, a crew of assistants, or 37 years of experience and teams of players to provide support, encouragement, help. And his behavior won't be scrutinized and analyzed by millions of wannabe sports analysts and the hundreds (thousands?) who earn their livings writing about sports. He won't have to worry about the sports communities second-guessing or trying to interpret every move, every word, every everything.
It won't make his journey any less daunting. It won't make the journey the rest of us take with him any less challenging. It won't make our journeys have any less impact on us. It only makes our story considerably less public.
If not now, then when? Check out the Alzheimer's Association. If you've not already been affected by this devastating disease personally in some way, it's quite possible someone you know has. Think about doing something to help promote research and dissemination of information.
Watching and waiting for something to change; waiting and watching for signs of change. Not particularly productive.
Go to the Alzheimer's Association site to learn what you can and need to learn; to find out what you might be able to do to help make a difference.