WUWF has been following the Alzheimer’s journey of Brian LeBlanc, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, at the age of 54.
After a brief check-in for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June, WUWF’s Sandra Averhart went back for a more in depth conversation with LeBlanc about some of the significant changes in his life since they last spoke at length well over a year ago.
“Yeah, a lot has changed,” said LeBlanc, beginning with his marital status. “Well, 2017 was a very, a very hard year. Shannon and I divorced; well, we separated and our divorce went through last year.”
LeBlanc got his Alzheimer’s diagnosis about five years ago. He says it’s been tough for him and it was just about as difficult for his wife and now grown children, who had to watch up close as he deteriorated little by little.
“There was a lot of frustration. There was a lot of crying,” he explained. “And, I knew that it was me, or not me but my disease. Well, I don’t even want to blame it on that. I’m not putting blame on anyone, but I know how hard it was for them to see me like that.”
It was LeBlanc’s decision to leave, in an effort to spare his family from the burden of caring for him.
“I wanted them to live their life and do whatever they wanted to do, and basically gave them the freedom,” said LeBlanc. “They didn’t have to worry about being home or bringing me here or bringing me there; they could do whatever they wanted. And, that made me happy that they could do that, but at the same time it was horribly, horribly sad.”
To help him adjust to the change in his marital status, LeBlanc sought a fresh start in a new city, so he relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee. He moved in with a friend who was also navigating life with early onset Alzheimer’s. In hindsight, it was not a good decision.
“All I can say is this, if you know somebody that has Alzheimer’s and they say ‘Hey, I got a great idea, I’m going to move to a place that I’ve never been before and I’m gonna start my whole life over again.’ What I would suggest that you do is just reach over and slap ‘em [sic] in the face and say, ‘You stupid, stupid, person,’” he laughs.
All jokes aside, LeBlanc says Knoxville is a beautiful city and during his stay, he made many wonderful connections that he still has today. But, he says after a while, he came to the realization that he is very difficult to live with.
“You know, they’re doing studies now on anxiety, frustration and anger in people that have a dementia-related illness,” LeBlanc said. “And, it’s not so much that you’re angry at someone, you’re angry with a certain thing. And, something very, very, very small and little can just set you off. And, that’s what happened with me. And, so we realized you know that it wasn’t working.”
So, LeBlanc moved back to Pensacola last spring. He chuckles as he recalls the date was April 1, as if to signify an April fool’s joke on him.
For our interview, I met up with LeBlanc at his new apartment. As expected, he says his newly-single life back here has been an adjustment.
“It’s been difficult living on my own,” he admits. “But, I will say, that I’m not, I’m not managing it a hundred percent, but, I’m doing the best I can.”
Thankfully, LeBlanc has not had to face life totally on his own, thanks in great part to his now ex-wife Shannon. He says she calls him once a day to check on him and often makes herself available to ensure he has what he needs.
“On a rainy day, she’ll call and say, ‘Do you need to go to the grocery?’ because she knows I walk everywhere I go, and, so she’ll bring me. She just makes sure that I’m OK,” he says of their new, still caring, relationship. “But, yet she still can leave 'this' and go back to her place.”
Thankfully, Shannon’s was the first face LeBlanc saw after the latest major development in his life, triple bypass heart surgery. He had the surgery just one week after sitting down for this interview and immediately after returning from a conference on Alzheimer's/dementia. In our next installment, we’ll hear more about the surgery, LeBlanc’s history of heart disease, and his recovery.