“When my wife, Shannon, started explaining, it was one of the most eye-opening WOW moments,” Brian says when I ask him about his blog post entitled, Alzheimer’s has, at least, Two Faces. Inspired by Barbra Streisand’s, movie, The Mirror has Two Faces, he writes about “how we see ourselves and how others see us.” I learned about Brian after his article appeared on the Dementia Alliance International’s site in September during World Dementia Month.
Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola, Florida has been living with dementia for several years. He was diagnosed two years ago.
His wife of ten years was brought to tears after one of his presentations. Wondering what he had done wrong, his asked his wife, Shannon. Through tear-filled eyes, she asked, “How do you do that?” referring to how polished he comes across before an audience and how confused, forgetful, angry, and more he is at home.
Brian was the rare consummate professional as we corresponded by email and talked on the phone. This public relations, marketing, and advertising guy was prompt, he followed up, and he was articulate for most of our 53-minute call.
Diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s at age 54
He responds with the precise date of his diagnosis, “October 28, 2014,” adding with a chuckle, “a day that will live in infamy.” When asked, he explains, “It’s one of those things that sticks in my head. It’s a life-changing experience when you’re told that you’ve been diagnosed with a fatal disease. I’ve used that date so many times in my presentations, I remember it.
What made you suspect something was wrong?
“I was driving to my doctor’s office, a place I’d been to many times. As I was going there, I got completely turned around. Nothing looked familiar and I was in complete panic mode. I called my wife… she helped me with the GPS coordinates, which I put in my phone. I was only a half mile away from the doctor’s office.”
“Wait, Brian, you mean, you, a man, asked for directions from a woman?” I teased.
“I was literally lost… I didn’t know what to do. I’m proud to say, I asked my wife for directions.”
“When I got home that night, my wife and daughter wanted to talk with me. I felt like it was an intervention. Shannon asked, ‘Do you know how many times you’ve been lost the last six months?’ I told them, I thought this was the first time. ‘You’ve been lost a dozen times the last six months.’ I was surprised! My 22-year old daughter told me I was repeating stories and questions.”
“Given the history of Alzheimer’s in my family, I knew I’d better be checked.”
Who in your family had Alzheimer’s?
“The first person we knew was my great grandma. [All family members he mentions are on his mother’s side.] And then my grandfather and my mother. And now, me.”
Were you under too much stress?
Research shows that cortisol produced by too much stress will damage our brains leading to dementia-like symptoms. I wondered if in Brian’s case, he overworked his brain beyond the benefits of cognitive reserve.
“I finally got to a spot where I thoroughly enjoyed what I did working for a local car dealership. Since 2009, I introduced community outreach with a weekly radio show and two TV shows. No one had done that before. But in May 2013, they laid me off. I got another job. I kept it for two weeks. After losing another job, I discovered I can’t remember what I learn from one day to the next. My diminished learning capacity made it hard to learn something new.”
Feeling at ease with Brian, I ask, “Are you OCD?”
“Hah,” he replies with a hearty laugh, “My OCD is so bad I call it CDO, which is OCD in alphabetical order.”
“Did you make that up, Brian?”
“Nah,” he says playfully. “When I first heard that, I figured it fit me to a T!”
What can you teach us?
“I’m still me. I’m still the person I was. I still have a sense of humor. I can still converse with you. Depending on the time of day it might not be the kind of conversation you want to hear, because I’m having trouble putting things together.
What advice do you have for communicating with you?
“Don’t have any… what’s the…?” Brian struggles to find the word. “Come into the conversation with an open mind. Don’t have preconceived notions. Yeah, that’s the word, preconceived.”
Being the PR guy he is, Brian LeBlanc offers his take on the sage advice: If you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s (or dementia), you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s (or dementia):
We’re all snowflakes.
There are no two people alike.
We should be treated as such.
For more information and to keep up with A Bit of Brian’s Brilliance, visit his website Alzheimer’s: The Journey – I have Alzheimer’s BUT, it doesn’t Have Me!