This story was originally published by WKYT here.

When Kyra Elzy steps onto the court, she often thinks about the coach who helped her get there. In late January, inside Memorial Coliseum, Coach Elzy was thinking about Coach Pat Summitt, as she helped present a check to the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, from the Pat Summitt Foundation.

“I think Coach Summit would be so proud,” Elzy says. “She was always about servant leadership, and paying your blessings forward, and for me and my family to be able to do that, to help find a cure for this awful disease, it’s heartwarming. I know she’s smiling down in heaven.”

The $25,000 donation comes from the late Tennessee coach’s foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Since that day on the court, Sanders-Brown has been using the funds for programs helping both dementia patients and their caregivers. Coach Elzy is familiar with both. Her grandmother had dementia.

“You’re mentally fatigued, you’re sitting in the house all day, taking care of someone that can no longer do anything for themselves, and until you’ve done it, people do not understand,” she notes. “It’s so difficult I don’t think people really understand the mental and physical toll that it takes on you, just seeing someone that you love who can no longer remember anything.”

Dr. Elizabeth Rhodus is using part of the Pat Summitt donation on sensory kits for caregivers.

“The more that we can empower caregivers with the skills in the techniques to properly provide care, the more empowered they feel, the less burdened, the less stress, and the calmer the situation between the person with dementia and the caregiver,” says Rhodus. “We send out lavender-infused lotion, so that people are getting some tactile input through the body to help them feel calm. We send out what’s called a tactile brush. It’s really a silicone brush to help activate the hands, because the hands, the mouth, the feet, are some of the most sensitive areas throughout the entire aging process. So we really want to make sure that people are getting input from their body to their brain.”

Dr. Rhodus’s research in pediatrics helped guide her current work with dementia patients.

“People with dementia lose the ability to initiate and to engage with the self soothing activities. So we use a sensory based approach to teach those mechanisms to caregivers, to help the nervous system feel calm,” notes Rhodus.

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