Dean Smith’s dementia began in 2007, wife says

Linnea Smith addresses the illness of her husband, UNC coach Dean Smith. (WNCN)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith dealt with dementia beginning in 2007, his wife said Wednesday at a conference.

Linnea Smith spoke Wednesday morning at a news conference for the launch of North Carolina’s first dementia-friendly community initiative, made possible by a $900,000 federal grant.

Wednesday marked the first time Linnea Smith has spoken publicly since her husband’s death.

The Orange County Department of Aging held the event at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center in Chapel Hill.

“(We didn’t think) we’d be here today advocating for individuals with dementia,” Linnea Smith said. “No family is immune of having a member develop this illness, and it is difficult, but there are resources.”

Linnea shared stories of Dean in the good times and the times her husband suffered.

“Often he wouldn’t remember interactions,” she said. “But in the present moment, he experienced pleasure and meaning.”

She also described what helped her and could help other caregivers.

“I was very fortunate to have to have family support. It’s easy for me now that self-care is an important because we want caregivers to be there for the duration,” Linnea Smith said.

Linnea Smith said there needs to be more peer support groups, and she hopes the grant can help support that.

The goal of is to train two businesses a week to be dementia-friendly as well.

Dean Smith died Feb. 7 after a long bout with dementia that saw the slow erosion of what had once been his phenomenal memory.

Dean Smith was known for being able to recall names and faces decades after he met people, and for being able to recall specific events in games that had happened many seasons before.

Smith coached the Tar Heels until retiring just before the 1997-98 season.

For more information on the grant of Dementia-Friendly initiatives, call Mary Fraser with the Aging Transitions Administration at 919-245-4274 or email: mfraser@orangecountync.gov.

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