- Associated Press - Saturday, November 5, 2011

KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt hopes her public battle with dementia raises awareness about the disease and inspires people to do more.

Kentucky associate head coach Kyra Elzy is one of many whom Summitt has already touched.

Elzy had already made a New Year’s resolution to increase her volunteer work in 2011. So when the 59-year-old Summitt made her announcement in August, she saw a perfect opportunity to honor her former coach and her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s.

Elzy volunteers at Best Friends Day Care in Lexington, Ky., an adult day care for people who require supervision.

“Coach Summitt, she is very courageous, very strong and a very giving person, so for her to come out in public with the type of platform she brings, everybody takes notice, everybody listens,” Elzy said. “It was so courageous of her to want to help others. She’s a face and a voice that people respect. It’s just breathtaking.”

Summitt, who revealed in August that she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, isn’t the only famous person fighting dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Many public figures who have faced Alzheimer’s, such as former president Ronald Reagan and actor Charlton Heston, were diagnosed late in life and privately faced the disease.

Summitt knew that revealing her diagnosis would help give her a platform about the diseases.

“I think it’s going to really touch a lot of people that might not come forward and say, `I’ve got dementia.’ Hopefully, they’ll feel like there’s ways you can handle it,” she said.

Summitt’s example could help others recognize the warning signs of the disease and understand how it can be managed after it is diagnosed.

Angela Geiger, the chief strategy officer for the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, said she and her staff received more phone calls, e-mails and text messages when Summitt revealed her diagnosis than they had for any other news story related to Alzheimer’s.

“At the Alzheimer's Association we cannot thank Pat Summitt enough for disclosing her diagnosis so early in the process and continuing to live her life,” Geiger said.

“It really provides an example for other people especially in the early stages that they can live their lives. It’s really only recently that we’ve had people that are early in the disease process really start to talk about this.

“They’re helping to destigmatize this disease.”

It’s also helped inspire others to support people with the disease and Alzheimer’s research and awareness.

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