Chicago Bears Legend Gale Sayers Battling Dementia (VIDEO)

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Former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers is struggling with dementia after being diagnosed with the brain disease four years ago, according to Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star.

“Gale Sayers, who 40 years ago became the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, joining nearly 50 million people worldwide.

But Ardie Sayers has come to believe its onset was years before that — possibly even as far back as when he returned to Kansas in a fund-raising capacity for a time in 2009.

While she considers Sayers, 73, physically healthy “as a horse” and notes he is working out with a trainer several days a week, she added, “That brain controls everything, doesn’t it?”

Some of his days are better than others.

On Wednesday, he scarcely spoke during a seven-hour visit by The Star.

But other times, he can hold halting conversations, and Ardie Sayers and friends believe there is a lot happening inside that he just can’t get out.

She tries to pry that loose, or at least prime it, by seeking to engage his mind with anything from jigsaw puzzles to a documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy she hoped might draw out some memories.

That’s why she has been moving him home from a facility he’d been staying in for the last few months, and it’s why she works with him at such things as practicing signing his name.

“I say, ‘OK, come on, let’s fill up this page,’ ” said Ardie Sayers, who also is getting in-home care for her husband. “ ‘I’ll write one, and then you write one.’

“At times you can wait 30 minutes, or maybe 10 minutes. And then he’ll do it like there’s never been anything wrong. It takes a lot of patience.”

She demonstrated that with him on Wednesday, when just before dinner he went to wash his hands with carpet cleaner.

“It keeps you on your toes,” she said, noting the words of a wife of a former NFL player that have become seared into her mind. “ ‘Don’t let him out of your sight.’ 

Other times, she’s learning to laugh to keep from “crying all the time” like she might want to do, and often she’s helped by the reassurance and support of family and this tight-knit, protective community.

Neighbors and friends at the United Methodist Church constantly offer help or prayers or cards of encouragement, a tendency you could also see in the way people treated him over at Cook’s Pizza.

“They know what’s happening, but you see the attitude they have toward him?” she said. “It’s not backing off. It’s embracing and saying to me, ‘Ardie, if you need some help, you know where I am.’ 

“Like the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said, ‘Yes, a part of this has to be on football,’ ” Ardie Sayers said, adding, “It wasn’t so much getting hit in the head … It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”

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