Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

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Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

From Comcast SportsNet
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. "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. "He's had a couple episodes of getting faint or passing out around that time," Murray recalled. "It's possible he had a couple of mini-strokes that picked off some of the parts of his brain that you need to be able to retain short-term memory. That's my theory and what his family physician is thinking." Howe had episodes of forgetfulness about six years ago while caring for his wife. The Howe children recognized the signs they'd previously seen in their mother. The hockey great also was tired and not looking after himself, which made his condition worse. A program of regular physical activity has helped him combat his dementia. "He can easily walk four miles on very hilly terrain without a problem," Murray said. "When he first came to us, he couldn't walk 100 yards up a slight incline without having to stop because of chest pains. It was a complete turnaround for him." After Colleen Howe's death, the Howes were approached by the Toronto health organization Baycrest to put Gordie Howe's face on a fundraising campaign for Alzheimer's. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest specializes in mental diseases of the elderly. Howe, accompanied by Marty, makes public appearances at an annual series of Scotiabank Pro-Am hockey tournaments across Canada. More than 16 million has been raised by the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer's. Howe is scheduled to attend a Canucks game in Vancouver on Thursday night to promote a Scotiabank Pro-Am in that city later this year. Marty says his father plans to help kick off the same tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto this spring. He also will also attend a news conference Thursday afternoon in advance of a tribute in his honor at Friday's Vancouver Giants game. Howe has his photo taken with fans and signs autographs under Marty's watchful eye at the events. A speech isn't an option anymore. Fatigue tends to exacerbate Howe's condition and Marty doesn't want his father feeling strained. "If you see him now, obviously you can kind of tell he's not firing on all cylinders," Marty says. "Most people see Gordie and they're just happy Gordie is talking to them." Marty was alarmed by a decline in his father's condition before an appearance in Calgary last year, but didn't want his condition made public until the family had a better handle on his condition. "For people who are dealing with this, you have to have a sense of humor," he said. "Nobody wants to see their family members go through this. It gets harder. Towards the end, it's really no quality of life whatsoever. Pretty depressing, but you have to find the humor in some of it. Otherwise, it will kill you, too." Marty and Murray are just grateful the dementia hasn't changed their father's personality or attitude so far. "We're enjoying the times we have now," Marty said.

Myers: 'It's painful' that Kerr not able to treasure being in NBA Finals

Myers: 'It's painful' that Kerr not able to treasure being in NBA Finals

OAKLAND -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr is no closer to resuming full-time duties than he was a week ago, or even a month ago.

Out since April 23, when he announced he was taking a leave of absence to address chronic pain in the wake of multiple back surgeries nearly two years ago, Kerr has been a constant presence the past two weeks but not on the bench during games.

“He’s doing everything but coaching, but at this point, he’s not able to coach,” general manager Bob Myers said Thursday after practice. “I wish could say that he was. I’m sure he wishes he could as well. But that’s where we are.

“If something changes and he feels better, I’ll sit here or, better -- he would sit here -- and tell you. But right now, I can’t say that he’s going to be coaching.”

Though Kerr did not address media Thursday, he indicated earlier this week that he would be comfortable going into the NBA Finals, which begin June 1, with acting head coach Mike Brown at the helm.

“We’re 12-0,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com. “I feel great about where the team is. I know we can play better. I think the challenge we’re about to face, one way or the other, is going to take us to another level.”

The Warriors under Kerr finished the regular season with a league-best 67-15 mark, earning the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs. Kerr coached Games 1 and 2 of the first round against Portland before surrendering head coaching duties to Brown.

The Warriors are 10-0 since Brown took over, 27-1 over their last 28 games since March 11.

Still, they would like Kerr to regain health and join them in their quest for a second championship in three years.

“It’s hard for me; I’m kind of in this basketball mode,” Myers said. “But he’s a person and he’s not feeling well. And that’s what makes it hard. More than how it reflects on our team is how he’s feeling that makes it very difficult to have to sit here and say that the man that’s hugely responsible for us being in The Finals for three years in a row, in a moment that he should be treasuring, can’t do it.

“It’s painful. And I know it’s painful for him, more than anybody. And I wish and he wishes and I’m sure you guys do, too, that there was something that could get him there. But right now, we’re not at that point.”

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

CHICAGO — As they packed up at AT&T Park eight days ago, the Giants talked of taking their momentum on the road. It sounded pie-in-the-sky given the way they had played in April and on the previous trip, but when they took the first two in St. Louis, players started to believe they had finally turned the corner. 

And then came a Sunday loss, and three of four at Wrigley Field. There was no happy flight Thursday. The Giants lost 5-1, again looking flat against a less-than-elite pitcher, and ended up with a 3-4 trip. They’ll finish the first two months of the season without a winning road trip. They're 9-19 away from AT&T Park. 

“It’s disappointing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Once you win the first one here, you’re hoping you get greedy and take the series, but we didn’t. That’s disappointing.”

The Giants entered the road trip with a 6.62 starters’ ERA on the road, but pitching wasn’t the issue. Sure there were too many meatballs — most of the 10 Cubs homers in this series came on pitches left right over the fat part of the plate — but the starters did their job. The lineup couldn’t keep up. The Giants had just five hits Thursday and finished the trip with 24 runs in seven games. They started the trip nine games out in the West and finished 11 back of the Rockies, their largest deficit since 2013. 

“You come here and take the first game with our (top) guys throwing after that and you’re hoping for a better result,” Jeff Samardzija said. “We started out good and that St. Louis series puts you in a good spot to salvage the trip. We’ll go home now with six solid games on our home turf and they’re six big games for us.”

The Braves and Nationals come to town. The Giants will see Jaime Garcia on Friday, followed by Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey. 

--- Samardzija’s run without a walk ended at 154 batters when Ian Happ drew a free pass in the seventh. The streak was the best of Samardzija’s career. 

--- Eduardo Nuñez said he got treatment on a tight hamstring throughout the game and he’ll go in early Friday to continue treatment. He hopes to start Friday. 

--- Christian Arroyo was hitless in three at-bats, dropping his average to .191. Before the game, Bochy talked at length about Arroyo’s recent struggles and the plan with him going forward. 

--- If you missed it earlier, I took a tour of the visiting bullpen here. After going in there, I talked to some more pitchers about what they don’t like. It seems to mostly be the fact that you’re separated from the game. One said some of the relievers who pitched Monday had no idea it was raining because they had been getting loose inside for several innings. Seems like there’s a pretty easy fix here: The Cubs can just turn part of that Under Armour wall into a chain-link fence, or have some sort of window that opens up to the outside but doesn’t interfere with outfielders. Maybe next year …