From dependency to interdependency: Pat Summitt’s challenge to America.

Pat Summitt’s announcement that, at the age of 59, she has been diagnosed with dementia caused by Alzheimers disease is sad news. Her plan to continue working as the head coach of the eight-time NCAA Division I national championship University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team is a shot heard round an aging world.

A person diagnosed with dementia still working? The idea seems bizarre, and yet a big money college athletic program does not run its coaching staff like a small town volunteer basketball program. The University’s decision to retain her as a coach is an opportunity for society to engage in a vigorous debate about how will we live with cognitive impairment as well as other impairments seen with the chronic diseases common to older adults.

Summitt’s exact story is unusual. Alzheimers disease is rare before the 7th decade of life. But the theme of her story is common, and, in the coming decades, it will be even more common.... To read the rest of this essay, visit the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Human Capital Blog.


An update -- 29 April 2012. One season after disclosing her diagnosis of Alzheimers Disease, Pat Summitt had resigned as head coach. She will continue in an advisory role. She is also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making her perhaps the first person with diagnosed Alzheimers Disease to receive this award. Her story continues to foretell the future of an aging America.