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Dementia Battle's Latest Face: "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe

Last updated:

February 02, 2012
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Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe is on the campaign trail -- no, not for president, but to raise awareness about dementia and funds for research, reports USA Today. "Mr. Hockey," now 83, has a personal stake in the disorder because Pick's disease, a rare type of dementia, killed his wife, Colleen. Howe himself now shows signs of possible dementia.

Howe's son Murray, a radiologist, says his father's symptoms don't appear to be either Alzheimer's disease or Pick's. They're more in line with mild cognitive impairment, which means it's unclear what his prognosis will be. They may also be connected to vascular dementia, the family says, given Howe's history of heart problems.

Another possible cause: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Despite all the recent headlines about the connection between sports concussions and this form of dementia, however, Howe's family isn't making that link in his case. They just aren't sure. For one thing, they note, there's not a good record of how many concussions Howe suffered during his years on the ice. And his cognitive symptoms started later in life, in his late 70s.

Interestingly, they began to appear while he was a caregiver to his declining wife. (Caregiver stress is known to add physical strain and make self-care harder.)

Howe doesn't show the marked mood and personality changes that are the first signs of Pick's, before Alzheimer's-like cognitive problems grow obvious. He does, however, struggle with sundowning, a pattern of increased confusion and agitation that tends to strike late in the day, around sunset.

On the plus side: His sunny personality is unchanged. And he can walk four miles at a clip or rake leaves for three hours at a time. He's raised more than $16 million for Alzheimer's research.

"We're enjoying the times we have now," another son, Marty, told USA Today.