Updated: 03/01/2013 11:21 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz
Doctors call it an epidemic and in Minnesota almost 98,000 people are suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
This weekend hundreds of people from across the country are coming to St. Paul to talk about dementia and there will be a special guest on hand to help. Pat Summitt will speak during a conference called "Meeting of the Minds" hosted by the Alzheimer's Association and Mayo Clinic.
Summitt is the winningest college basketball coach of all time, capturing 8 national titles during her 38 year career. In 2011, Summitt announced that doctors at Mayo clinic had diagnosed her with early onset Alzheimer's.
"What courage it takes to step outside of your box that you are used to being in and say, 'I am going through something and it's difficult and I'm going to need help but I'm also going to fight it,'" said Michelle Marciniak, who played for the Lady Vols under Summitt.
Marciniak remembers when her former coach started to change.
"Ok, now we just had a conversation, it was a very intense conversation, it was a great conversation, and then the next morning, she wouldn't remember it. For me, that was the trigger," Marciniak said.
Summitt is not alone. More than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer's. Every 68 seconds someone in America develops the disease.
"It's very difficult but it's also something that we're all trying to celebrate her while she's here and while we still have her," Marciniak said.
Dee and Chase Israelson live in Sacramento, California but come to Mayo Clinic several times a year for treatment. They will join more than 1,300 people at the conference Saturday.
"I don't think anyone could say when it started but it was noticeable enough that our adult children were saying, 'Hey something's wrong here,'" Chase Israelson said.
Dee Israelson does not have Alzheimer's but about a year ago she was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
"I think it's important for me to plan somewhat for the future but at the same time not to get obsessed with it... If I'm obsessed with it, I'm more apt to go into depression, that would just make it worse," Dee Israelson said.
Summitt speaks at 8:30 Saturday morning at the St. Paul RiverCentre. The conference is sold out.
"If you are going through this with someone, you just have to love them. And you just have to be there. And you may be sitting in a room and it may be absolutely silent and that's ok," Marciniak said.
At the current rate, doctors believe as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer's by 2025.