The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/02/12 at 07:43 PM ET
Updated 4x at 8:40 PM: In a somewhat strange twist given Marty and Murray Howe’s comments to the Canadian Press’s Donna Spencer regarding their father’s battle with what is clearly the initial signs of some sort of Alzheimer’s or dementia-related illness, Marty told the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa that his father’s slow mental decline does not involve a specific diagnosis of dementia per se:
“Just to set things straight Gordie does not have dementia,” Marty Howe said as he was driving with his dad from Kamloops, British Columbia, to Vancouver for a press conference Thursday afternoon. “He has had a cognitive problem for 7 or 8 years that causes mostly short-term memory loss. If he had dementia we would be lucky to have him with us.”
According to a Canadian Press report, Dr. Murray Howe, another of Howe’s sons, said his father likely has mild cognitive impairment, which is considered and intermediate condition between the normal aging process, in advanced age, and early dementia.
For a few years now, reporters attempting to contact Gordie Howe for specific memories of his glory years with the Red Wings and in the NHL have been cautioned by the Howe family, that their father or grandfather’s memory of such events is no longer entirely reliable.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also asked Wings coach Mike Babcock to weigh in as to how Howe’s performing in terms of personal interactions while also stating (perhaps on caution from the team) that Howe’s memory is “deteriorating”:
Howe, 83, remains something of a regular at Joe Louis Arena. Speaking this morning at Rogers Arena, where the Wings tonight will take on the Vancouver Canucks, Babcock noted how Howe still has an aura about him.
“I see him all the time,” Babcock said. “It’s just one of those things; he’s getting older, and we still love having him around, and he loves coming around. He’s a joy to talk to every time I see him.”
Howe is scheduled to participate in a news conference in Vancouver this afternoon. More to come.
Mr. Hockey won’t be saying much. That’s how it works these days, and that’s just fine.
Update: The Kamloops Daily news’s Greg Drinnan reports that Howe did very well while speaking to the media and fans in Kamloops, BC on Wednesday:
Mr. Hockey, sans elbow pads, was at Interior Savings Centre on Wednesday. He met with the media for a bit of a gabfest in the afternoon and later, with the Kamloops Blazers playing the Spokane Chiefs, rubbed shoulders with folks, signed some things and threw the odd elbow. Hey, old habits and all that.
In retirement, Howe has proved to be everything we hope our heroes will be. He also turned out to be mortal, just like the rest of us, although most of us can only hope to carry ourselves with such grace in our golden years. For so many years, his wife, Colleen, had stood by her man and dictated the terms by which others could share him. Then, when Colleen was struck by Pick’s disease, a horrible affliction with similarities to Alzheimer’s, Howe stood by her, all but refusing to leave her side as he cared for her. Colleen was 76 when she died on March 6, 2009, leading to what surely has been the three toughest years of Howe’s life.
Now he spends time with his four children — daughter Cathy and sons Murray, Mark and Marty — and their families. He tried going it alone but the home he and Colleen had shared for so long is too empty without her. The last while, he has been with Marty in Hartford. Marty now looks after his father’s bookings and travel arrangements. Marty is always at his father’s side, too. Gordie’s voice now is as quiet as a skate blade cutting through butter. These days, it’s hard to picture Gordie as an NHLer who, according to Marty, lived by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
“If I was hit, I was going to hit back,” Gordie says and, just for a moment, that steely-eyed look flashes across his visage. Then he chuckles.
Gordie is at an age where thoughts oftentimes are fleeting, so Marty is there to help. When Gordie’s mind wanders, Marty, who’ll be 58 on Feb. 18, often finishes the thought.
They’ll be in Vancouver today — the Red Wings play the Canucks there tonight and there is some promotional work to do with Baycrest, a firm that deals with “innovations in aging and brain health.” On Friday, Gordie will be honoured at a game between the Blazers and Vancouver Giants. He and Giants majority owner Ron Toigo are friends.
While his four children share him, he continues to share himself with his game and his fans, as he was doing last night at Interior Savings Centre. As you watch him, you realize that in the twilight of his life, the arena is his home, hockey people are his friends. You realize that this is where he is most comfortable, that he needs the people now the way the people once needed him. We only hope that we can give back to him what he once gave to us.
Update #2: From the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
Marty Howe calls reports of Gordies dementia “blown way out of proportion”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James...
Gordie Howe this afternoon http://pic.twitter.com/EWkHgWyp
Marty Howe says Gordie Howe does not have dementia
Will have story shortly on Freep, but basically, Marty Howe says his dad is doing well, does not have dementia, enjoys being around hockey
And MLive’s Ansar Khan:
Marty Howe during press conf. in Vancouver says dad Gordie does not have dimentia but it might develop into that.
Marty Howe said Gordie is doing well and should “live for many more years”
update #3: Here’s Helene St. James’ full story:
“I just want to clear up one thing,” Marty Howe said. “It’s really not dementia. It may turn into it. Basically, his brain doesn’t function properly because of past injuries. The doctors also think that he may have had a mini-stroke when he was taking care of my mom when she was sick. Overall, he’s healthy as a rock. He’ll continue to do this as long as he’s able to. He’s doing well for being 84 next month. I don’t know what you expect mentally from somebody, but he’s not as well as he could be, but he’s still doing fine.”
Howe said his father’s condition has been going on for “eight or 10 years. It’s been a long time. If it was actually dementia, he would probably be dead already.”
Because of his condition, Marty said Gordie is no longer comfortable doing interviews. Gordie did appear on the ice today to display the sweaters the Vancouver Giants, a Canadian Hockey League team of which he is a minority owner, will wear in his honor Friday. Marty said he and Gordie will be at tonight’s Red Wings-Canucks game at Rogers Arena, too.
Howe played for the Wings in 1946-71. His tremendous career earned him the nickname “Mr. Hockey,” and he still occasionally stops by the dressing room at Joe Louis Arena.
“I see him all the time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s just one of those things; he’s getting older, and we still love having him around, and he loves coming around. He’s a joy to talk to every time I see him.”
Singer Michael Buble, also a minority Giants owner, spoke reverently of having Gordie Howe come to his shows. “When I’ve played in Detroit or near the city, I’ve had him there about three times or four times,” Buble said. “Every show that I’ve done, I’ve introduced him. It’s pretty amazing to see 14,000 people on their feet for five minutes, going absolutely nuts. It’s actually been really emotional those times.”
“I just want to clear up one thing, it’s really not dementia,’’ Marty Howe said today. “It may turn into it. There’s a term, (mild cognitive impairment), basically his brain doesn’t function properly because of past injuries. The doctors also think he may have had a mini-stroke when he was taking care of my mom (Colleen, who died in 2009 from Pick’s Disease, a form of dementia) when she was sick.’‘
Marty said his dad is “healthy as a rock.’‘
“He’s doing well, for being 84 next month,’’ Marty said. “I don’t know what you expect mentally from somebody. He’s not as well as he could be, but he’s still going fine.’‘
Gordie and Marty Howe were at the Pacific Coliseum promoting Friday’s “Gordie Howe Night’’ prior to the WHL major junior Vancouver Giants game on Friday. Gordie Howe is a minority owner of that team.
“If it was actually dementia he would probably be dead already,’’ Marty said. “That’s just the way the disease works. It’s not that something might not happen later, you can’t rule out that, but right now he doesn’t have it and hopefully he never does.’‘
Marty Howe said a story by the Canadian Press “got blown way out of proportion as far as the dementia part.’‘
“There was some guy there blogging it to everybody and it made my life a living hell today,’’ Marty said. “Just to try to clear it up, he’s going to be with us a long time. And he’s still going to be able to function. It’s a memory loss and he definitely has loss of words, but most of it comes at night or when he’s tired.’‘
I hope they aren’t talking about me…When I posted that article at 5 AM, I made sure to choose my words very carefully and Donna Spencer, who is a very respected writer, was very, very specific in her report. I would lose my job if I made stuff up or blew things out of proportion, and I know it. Paul doesn’t tolerate that stuff for a second.
Anyway, here’s a bit more from the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap:
“It’s really not dementia,” said Marty, responding to a pair of stories published Thursday about Gordie’s memory loss and difficulty in speaking at times. “I just want to clear that up. He’s not as well as he could be but he’s still doing fine. It’s been going on for 8-10 years but if it was actually dementia, he’d probably be dead already. That’s just the way the disease works. That’s one of the things that definitely rules it out. It’s not that something might happen later but, right now, he definitely doesn’t have it and hopefully he never does,” Marty continued. “Someone was blogging it to everybody and it made my life a living hell today. So to just try and clear it up, Gordie is going to be with us a long time and he’s still going to be able to function.”
What Gordie, 83, does have is something termed ‘mild cognitive impairment.’ It often leads to some confusion and fatigue later in the day and it’s also led the Howe children to put a moratorium on their dad’s public speaking. Mr. Hockey doesn’t do media scrums anymore but he certainly had no trouble schmoozing with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and their ownership group, crooner Michael Buble among them, at a function Thursday to promote Friday’s Gordie Howe Night at Pacific Coliseum. The Giants will wear special red and white ‘Gordie Howe-Mr. Hockey’ jerseys for the game against the Kamloops Blazers.
“Gordie actually loves doing these things,” Marty Howe said. “Ron Toigo and the Giants are so good to him. He still does 55-60 appearances a year with the travel and everything that goes on. He loves fishing but it’s not the same thing. It doesn’t build up his spirits and, when he comes to these things, he puts his game face on. So we book him to everything we possibly can and he enjoys every minute.”
The Giants, of course, love having Gordie. He is a minority owner in the club and he has been regularly feted each season for the past 10 years.
“We’re really proud to be able to do this,” said Michael Buble, a passionate hockey fan. “It’s so cool to see the reaction to Gordie from all over the city. I love Gordie and I feel really fortunate I got to know him. He’s got a great sense of humour. I’ve done a few photos with him where he’s pulled down my shirt and given me an elbow to the head. I think I’ve taken his left elbow a few times.”
In addition to public appearances at hockey-related events, Gordie is also raising awareness for dementia research through the the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer’s. Colleen Howe died three years ago of Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia.
One more update: Here’s a bit more from teh PostMedia News’s Bradley Bouzane:
“He has memory problems, but it is not dementia,” Marty Howe, who also serves as his father’s business manager, said in an email. “His problems started about seven to eight years ago, so if it were dementia, he would not be with us anymore or so bad that he would not be able to keep up with his appearance schedule. “Gordie averages three to five appearances a month. Appearances are what keeps him young as he loves meeting and interacting with people and his fans.”
Howe, who turns 84 next month, previously has experienced heartbreak at the hands of dementia. In March 2009, his wife Colleen died from a rare form of dementia, known as Pick’s disease. Another of Howe’s sons, Dr. Murray Howe, an Ohio-based radiologist, said his father faces the struggles of many other people his age, but he doesn’t believe he has dementia, as stated in other reports Thursday. He said his father remains a workhorse and is extremely active in his personal life.
“He definitely has short-term memory deficit, but it seems to be very focal,” Murray Howe said Thursday. “His other cognitive functions are really either as good or better than baseline for an 83-year-old man. He’s had most of these issues for the better part of eight years, but they are really more noticeable in the last few years since my mother died because she was the sole initiator for everything in the relationship. My father is very flexible for any situation. He waits for whoever he’s with to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this or let’s do that,’ and he’s happy as a clam.”
Murray Howe noted that his father’s progression of any memory loss is extremely slow.
“One of our biggest concerns is that the memory loss is going to get worse where he’s not able to be himself,” he said. “It seems to be a relatively stable process.”
The Hockey Hall of Famer, born in Floral, Sask., had a playing career that stretched over five decades from his rookie year with Detroit in 1946-47 to his first retirement with the team in 1971. Then came his jump to the upstart WHA from 1973-74 until his second retirement in 1980. He made his final appearance in a single game with the International Hockey League Detroit Vipers in 1997-98. Howe’s sons Mark — who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year — and Marty also enjoyed professional hockey careers. Gordie Howe came out of his first retirement to play with them on the WHA’s Houston Aeros.
He currently splits his time evenly between his four children. He spends about three or four months with Murray in Ohio, Mark in New Jersey, Marty in Connecticut and daughter Cathy in Texas — a destination which Murray said is his father’s “warm getaway.” While Murray said his father thrives on regular physical activity, any length of time away from that — combined with a hectic appearance schedule — can lead to difficulty remembering, but only in the short term.
“He is very much aware of his short-term memory loss. It pisses him off,” Murray Howe said. “He can tell you every hole on every golf course he’s played. He’ll remember every hockey game he ever played in and every opponent. His long-term memory is completely intact.”
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