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Hockey Hall of Fame great Gordie Howe holds a hockey stick while taking part in the Pro AM for Alzheimer's charity fundraiser in Toronto on Thursday, May 5, 2011. Gordie Howe's wife Colleen died in 2009 from Pick's disease, a form of dementia. (Nathan Denette)
Hockey Hall of Fame great Gordie Howe holds a hockey stick while taking part in the Pro AM for Alzheimer's charity fundraiser in Toronto on Thursday, May 5, 2011. Gordie Howe's wife Colleen died in 2009 from Pick's disease, a form of dementia. (Nathan Denette)

Gordie Howe's dementia fight personal and public Add to ...



Now that daughter Cathy has recently moved to Lubbock, Texas, both Marty and Murray say their dad may spend part of the winters there to escape the cold.



When Gordie is at Murray's home in Ohio, he doesn't struggle with speech because he's rested, comfortable and with family.



On the road with Marty, he's in unfamiliar environments meeting people he doesn't know and has a hard time making conversation.



“A lot of times he tries to dodge that by talking in generalities,” Murray said. “He'll bring up some old stories he's familiar with and hope they apply to who he's talking to.



“When he's in a more comfortable, familiar environment like at our house and you come talk to him, he'll be much, much more cognitively intact.”



Marty was alarmed by a decline in Gordie's condition prior to an appearance last year in Calgary. Gordie seemed to enjoy himself there, donning a white cowboy hat presented to him by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.



Seated among ex-NHL players for a photo op, Howe jokingly gestured with his elbow famous for punishing opposing players at former Red Wings tough guy Dennis Polonich.



But he couldn't answer questions put to him in a video interview with The Canadian Press. His sentences were disjointed and Marty halted the interview.



“We were trying to do that interview and I thought he could do it,” Marty says now. “This disease is like that. It goes in spurts. What worries you is when it speeds up. He had that just before you would have seen him last year. He had a fast downhill spiral there for about three months.



“It's a lot. You get confused, you're not sure which room you're staying in, who is in the house, where is the bathroom? You lose any kind of short-term memory. It just goes right out the window. And then he settled down, which we were all happy for.”



At the time, Marty didn't want Gordie's condition made public until the family had a better handle on what they were dealing with. But given Gordie's age and the fact he's still engaged and interested in life, Murray questions how much would be gained by further testing.



“I don't feel I need to make a more definitive diagnosis,” Murray says. “We could put him through an all-day neurocognitive test like we did with our mom.



“It would be very frustrating for my dad, number one because he has dyslexia and I think it would be embarrassing for him. There are things he would struggle with, just because of the challenges he's always had with reading. And number two, it would bring out his memory issues and that's very frustrating for him.



“I saw with my mom ... we spent a lot of time making the diagnosis of Pick's disease, but really, frankly, there wasn't squat we could do about it. We tried every medicine that was out there and really got no response with any of it. She just went into a slow dive.”



While the Howe family has the misfortune of both parents struck by dementia, Marty says their experience with Colleen helps them in their decisions about Gordie's care.



“For people who are dealing with this, you have to have a sense of humour,” he says. “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 humour in some of it. Otherwise, it will kill you too.”



Marty and Murray are grateful dementia hasn't encroached on Gordie's personality or attitude so far. They keep their fingers crossed that their father will continue to be happy.



“I think he's doing great,” Marty says. “I'm sure we'll keep him fishing as long as we can, which he really enjoys.



“I wish he didn't have whatever he has. I know he would be with us longer. We're enjoying the times we have now.”



A hockey icon, Gordie played 33 professional seasons from 1945 to 1997.



“Over those five decades, Howe didn't just survive, he was dominant — on the scoring lists, in battles in the corners, on game-winning goals and when the year-end awards were handed out,” reads his Hockey Hall of Fame biography.



“He was a big man, though by modern standards no behemoth, but what set him apart was his incredible strength.”



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