Since November of 2015, we’ve been getting to know Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola. He has been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Now in his mid-50's, he has known about his condition for a little over a year now. As we continue our conversation, we focus on how the disease has impacted his daily life and how he’s dealing with it.
“Being this is radio, you can’t see what I’m doing right now, but I’m holding up my cell phone,” said LeBlanc. “That’s my constant companion.”
According to LeBlanc, his phone tells him everything, even when to eat.
“Over the past year, probably, I’ve lost probably around 30 pounds. It wasn’t because I was trying. It’s because I was forgetting to eat,” he said.
It was his sister who made note of his weight loss, when she visited a few months back. LeBlanc thought to himself, “I’m just eating healthy.” That was until his wife pointed out the reality that he wasn’t remembering to sit down for a meal.
As a result, he now has reminders on his phone of when to eat, when to take medication, and when to do things such as check the mail or let the dog out.
“Um, without it, I simply would not remember, because you can’t,” LeBlanc said.
Repetition is another aid that he utilizes, noting that before our first interview at the WUWF studios, he must have looked at the email 20 times.
The email was sent to him by Dr. Rodney Guttmann, Director of the University of West Florida Center on Aging, who first proposed the idea of LeBlanc sharing his story with the WUWF audience.
Our first interview was on a Tuesday. But, when it comes to the specific days of the week, LeBlanc says he says he has no idea.
“I know numbers. I can look on a calendar and I’ll see the tenth, you know, be here,” said LeBlanc. “But I don’t know the days of the week anymore.”
LeBlanc can identify weekends, he says, because his family members are home for two days in a row. But, confusion sets in if you throw in a weekday holiday or a three-day weekend.
“That messes me up, really bad,” said LeBlanc.
As a result, his daughter, who’s in college, will write her schedule on a board indicating when she’ll be away and when she comes home.
LeBlanc says access to such information is helpful because he’s found that he doesn’t do well with surprises.
He and his family members also have noted more frequent mood changes.
A friend of his talked about a feeling in the front part of his head that he couldn’t explain. LeBlanc referred to it as being his ‘fog.’
“As hard as you try to see something you just can’t,” LeBlanc said. “Sometimes, it’s completely shrouded. Sometimes it’s in the middle; it depends. But, you can’t see, and it comes and goes. It’ll come in, roll in, roll out.”
It’s on those ‘foggy’ days when LeBlanc can’t get behind the wheel of a car.
Right now, he’s functional and GPS is his best friend. But, he fears getting lost, which triggered his diagnosis, and he has no comfort that he’ll arrive at his intended destination.
“I’m extremely nervous about driving,” said LeBlanc. “That’s why I’ll only go places that I sort of know.”
LeBlanc says he prefers simple routes, without too many turns, adding that under no circumstances can he drive at night.
“That’s completely out of the question, because, I look for landmarks or street signs. At night I can’t see them and it’s not good.”
At night or when he’s in a fog, LeBlanc’s wife and daughter drive him around. Again, LeBlanc is still capable now under certain circumstances, but he knows it won’t be long before he’ll have to give us driving altogether.
“I’m worried that not only will I harm myself,” LeBlanc said. “But, if I harm someone because I was confused, I would never ever be able to live with myself with that.”
In particular, LeBlanc does not want to have to experience what his father went through when LeBlanc’s oldest brother took his keys away from him.
“My father, he forgot a lot of things, but he never forgot that.”
And, as we wrapped up our first extensive conversation, LeBlanc was feeling pretty good about the fact that he made it through the interview without notes. His public speaking on behalf of the Alzheimer's Association has helped.
He's part of Alzheimer's support groups and serves on the executive committee of the Florida/Alabama Panhandle Alzheimer's Association. Also, LeBlanc is chronicling his experiences in a blog, Alzheimer's: The Journey...my Alzheimer's Life.
In general, though, he says speaking isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be.
“People used to tell me I could talk to a tree and have a conversation,” said LeBlanc. “But, now I have to choose my words, thinking before they come out of my mouth to make sure that they sound okay.”
They do sound okay, and in 2016, we hope to hear more from Brian LeBlanc, talking about the changes in his life due to early on-set Alzheimer’s and how he’s coping.