Alert
Close

Last chance – give now. Before 2014 ends, help struggling seniors. Donate

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

AARP VETERAN MEMBERSHIP

Military and Veterans Discount

CONTESTS AND SWEEPS

AARP REALPAD

Introducing RealPad by AARP

AUTO BUYING PROGRAM

AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

Gordie Howe's Dementia Fight Personal and Public

Disease killed his wife, beginning to affect him

At 83, Mr. Hockey is still in demand and on the move. Gordie Howe is about to embark on another series of fundraisers to support dementia research.

It's a personal cause. The disease killed his wife, Colleen, in 2009 and is beginning to affect him.

See also: Using language to combat Dementia.

"He's a little bit worse than last year, but pretty close to about the same," son Marty said. "He just loses a little bit more, grasping for words.

"The worst part of this disease is there's nothing you can do about it."

While the long-term effects of concussions have been very much in the news lately, the family is hesitant to link the Hall of Famer's condition to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease typically found in autopsies of people who have had multiple head injuries, including more than a dozen former NFL and NHL players.

Concussions weren't tracked when Howe played, so it is impossible to know how many he sustained. And he didn't start showing signs of dementia until his late 70s.

"I don't think anybody can really answer that question," Marty said of a connection to CTE. "He went for so long without any symptoms whatsoever. You don't have to be an athlete or in contact sports to get dementia."

Howe's dementia is currently mild and his family members haven't sought a diagnosis of exactly what kind he has. They did that with Colleen, who died at 76 of Pick's disease. The rare form of dementia is marked by changes in mood, behavior and personality, followed by memory loss similar to that experienced in Alzheimer's.

Another son, Murray, a radiologist, says his father's symptoms don't fit either Alzheimer's or Pick's.

"He has what we call mild cognitive impairment," Murray said. "His brain power is not what it used to be. In terms of the prognosis and diagnosis, it's still wide open."

Howe has short-term memory loss, difficulty speaking and some confusion in the evening when the sun goes down. The latter, called "sundowning," occurs in people with dementia, although the cause is unclear.

"He's always worse in the evening," Marty said. "It's like when the sun goes down, something flips the switch."

But Howe's personality hasn't changed and he continues to recognize his family and friends.

Howe's stamina and power were legendary during his 33 seasons of pro hockey. Physically, he's doing well for a man about to turn 84 in March. His sons say Howe likes to do household chores and go fishing, one of his favorite pastimes.

"He's still Mr. Hockey and that's what is so great because he's just such a pleasure to have around," Murray said. "He'll wake up first thing in the morning and there's a bunch of leaves outside and he'll rake for three hours. He's so pleasant and upbeat.

"When he first started showing signs of memory loss, we were concerned it was Alzheimer's and it was just going to go downhill."

It's possible Howe's dementia is vascular in nature. He suffered from heart disease later in his life and required the implantation of a coronary stent about a decade ago.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

AARP membership discount Man trying on eyeglasses at optometrists smiling

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at LensCrafters.

Grandson (8-9) whispering to grandfather, close-up

Members can save 20% on hearing aids with the AARP® Hearing Care Program provided by HearUSA.

member benefits adt companion

Members save on new installation of a ADT Companion Service® personal emergency response system.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points