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Marty, Murray Howe confirm that Mr. Hockey is suffering from dementia

Update: The CP posted a video which accompanies the story: Red Wings legend Gordie Howe is in Vancouver to attend tonight’s Wings-Canucks game and then visit the WHL’s Vancouver Giants on Friday, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised when Sportsnet posted a photo gallery which accompanies their fantastic magazine article about how Mr. Hockey’s getting on just under three years after Mrs. Hockey passed away.

It should come as little surprise, however, that the Howe family has chosen to go into more detail about what they’re now admitting is a sad reality: both Marty and Murray Howe are now readily admitting to the Canadian Press’s Donna Spencer that, three years after their mother’s battle with an aggressive form of dementia called Pick’s Disease ended, their father’s now battling dementia as well:

“He’s a little bit worse than last year, but pretty close to about the same,” son Marty says. “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.”

The Howe family hasn’t chased a diagnosis of exactly what kind of dementia Gordie has. They did that with Colleen, who died at 76 of Pick’s disease. Pick’s is a rare form of dementia marked by changes in mood, behaviour and personality, followed by memory loss similar to that experienced in Alzheimer’s. Gordie’s dementia is currently mild and it’s unclear how it will progress. One of his other sons Murray, a doctor who specializes in radiology, says his father’s symptoms don’t fit either Alzheimer’s or Pick’s.

“He has what we call mild cognitive impairment,” Murray says. “His brain power is not what it used to be. In terms of the prognosis and diagnosis, it’s still wide open. He doesn’t fall into what I would say is any particular category. He really doesn’t seem to fall into the Alzheimer’s dementia category because his disease is pretty stable.”

Spencer notes that an interview she conducted with Howe a year ago raised questions about his state of mind, and now the family’s willing to publicly admit that Mr. Hockey’s “not firing on all cylinders” because they’re affiliated with several Alzheimer’s and dementia-related charities…

After Colleen’s death, the Howes were approached by the Toronto health organization Baycrest to put Gordie’s face on a fundraising campaign for Alzheimer’s. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest specializes in mental diseases of the elderly. Baycrest is holding a conference on mild cognitive impairment March 26-28 in Toronto. Half a million Canadians have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s website.

Gordie, accompanied by his son 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. Gordie is scheduled to attend a Canucks game in Vancouver on Thursday evening to promote a Scotiabank Pro-Am in that city later this year. Marty says the plan is for Gordie to help kick off the same tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto this spring. He will also attend a news conference Thursday afternoon in advance of a tribute in his honour at Friday’s Vancouver Giants game.

But Howe now lives with either Marty, who now chaperones his father on a near-full-time basis during public events (as I recall, Mark’s son Travis now runs the Howe hockey business), Murray, who lives in Toledo, or Cathy, who lives in Texas, spending his summers (as Sportsnet’s Dan Patterson noted) with Mark in New Jersey, and as Spencer notes, Howe no longer makes speeches or gives many interviews for his dignity’s sake. The only reason he still makes public appearances, put bluntly, is because the business of being Mr. Hockey does much more than subsidize his care—it makes him happy:

“He brings up the energy from someplace inside him to do better than he normally does,” Marty observes. “He really enjoys people. When he gets in public, it brings on his persona and kind of puffs his chest out a little bit.”
“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.”

Spencer also reveals that Murray doesn’t want his father to go any more testing to narrow down his condition (he is apparently taking Alzheimer’s/dementia-related medications for the sake of hoping he’ll be around for a little longer) because his father’s also dyslexic, which would yield some serious complications in trying to give him an exact diagnosis—if not provoke an extended episode of confusion—and for the moment, well…They just want to keep their father happy and keep their father engaged and interacting with them for as long as he can.

I’ll suggest that you give Spencer’s article a good long read, and that you might want to have some kleenex nearby when you read what Marty and Murray say about their dad’s future.

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I was never a Detroit fan and never will be and Gordie Howe played all his seasons in the NHL before I was even born.  Yet, his personalized autograph to me is by far the coolest piece of sports memorabilia that I own.  Very sad situation and I wish the Howe family much strength for the road ahead.

Posted by Geno71 on 02/02/12 at 11:41 AM ET


Have to say that there was no one I enjoyed speaking with more than Gordie. Anytime you got to spend with him made it a good day. Just a real class act. And his boys are the same way.

Posted by pcoffey on 02/02/12 at 12:02 PM ET


cool smile Mr. Gordon Howe is and always will be one of the worlds greatest Hockey Players ever. He actually showed me on the Ice at Olympia in Detroit on Dearborn Hockey Olympia day I believe in 1976 the proper way to take a wrist shot. It was pretty cool having Gordie Howe wrap his arms around my stick as I was holding it then sweep 3 feet then snap as hard as I can.  The puck will always go in the part of the net that I last see before shooting.  He is right. Skate Pass Shoot Score is the way hockey is played rightly.  Thank you Gordie Howe.  Thanks to Mark Marty and Murray.  All gratitude is with Colleen.

Posted by Timothy McIlhiny from Inkster, Michigan 48141 on 02/02/12 at 12:07 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

two years ago, when the Red Wings had one of their Legends nights promotions, Gordie signed his book for my kid and shook his hand. It meant little to him, I’m sure, but it meant so much to my boy. He gave so much to the sport beyond his play on the ice.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 02/02/12 at 12:15 PM ET

Paul's avatar

Gordie Howe has been my one and only sports idol, dating back to 1962.

I can’t count the number of times I waited for his autograph at the Olympia and he was gracious every time.

I will never forget interviewing him for my high school newspaper and instead of doing the interview outside the Allen Park Civic Arena, we went to a coffee shop where he sat with me for over an hour.

Now as he deals with this disease, I can only wish he receives the compassion and care he has shown others.

Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 02/02/12 at 01:00 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

UUUGGGHHH!!!!!!!!!!! That Sucks !! Damn ! good Luck Gordie ! Unfortunately it hurts Family Members Much Much More

Posted by Evilpens on 02/02/12 at 02:37 PM ET

hockeychic's avatar

I am sorry to read this.  I echo what Paul wrote.

Now as he deals with this disease, I can only wish he receives the compassion and care he has shown others.

My thoughts go out to the whole Howe family.

Posted by hockeychic from Denver, CO on 02/02/12 at 02:43 PM ET

SYF's avatar

This is breaking my heart.  I can only pray for him and the Howe family.

Posted by SYF from impossible and oddly communally possessive sluts on 02/02/12 at 03:41 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.