More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, a form of dementia that former University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt publicly battled before she died Tuesday morning.
In Tennessee more than 110,000 people 65 or older are affected by the disease. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase by up to 44 percent. Summitt was 64 when she died.
Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in Tennessee.
Across the U.S., 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. By 2050 that number could rise to 13.8 million.
Before she died, Summitt was a tireless advocate for those suffering from Alzheimer's. Whether it was raising awareness or funds, Summitt was tremendously impactful said Jim Ward, CEO and president of the Nashville chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
"When she came out in 2011, while she was actively coaching, she did a tremendous amount not only in Tennessee but nationwide about Alzheimer's disease," he said. "She showed a great amount of courage and humility."
In 2012 Summit won the Alzheimer’s Association's Sargent & Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award for her efforts to raise awareness.
Alzheimer's does not just take a toll on those with the disease, but their caregivers suffer as well. Ward said that the burden, both mentally and financially, falls on spouses and children.
"Alzheimer's, like many diseases, takes a tremendous toll on the families," he said. "Our estimates are that in 2015 there was about $485 million in unpaid care given by caregivers."
And if estimates hold, there will only be more people in the state diagnosed with the disease in the coming decades.
The best thing for seniors to do is to get tested at the earliest time and to take a page from Summit's book — do not give up. When asked about her disease, Summitt said, "Competition got me off the farm and trained me to seek out challenges and to endure setbacks; and in combination with my faith, it sustains me now in my fight with Alzheimer’s disease."
Reach Kirk A. Bado at 615-425-8374 and on Twitter @kirk_bado.