In support of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Dan Gasby has opened up to share his personal experience as a caregiver for his wife Barbara Smith, who was diagnosed with the disease two years ago.
Barbara Smith, endearingly known as B., has been suffering from the symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease for several years. B. shares this journey with her husband Dan Gasby, just as they have teamed together to achieve personal, financial and professional goals in over 20 years of marriage. Dan and B. became household names in the television and restaurant industry, sharing their success with others then, and now they are inspiring the world in a new and unexpected way.
An esteemed food and style expert, B. Smith was seemingly poised to become an icon likened to Martha Stewart. She was the one of the first African-American models to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle, as well as owning her own restaurant, having products that carried her name and hosting a television program. Today those treasured dreams are often lost to her present memory, as well as other structured knowledge, such as the date, month, and year. B. is aware of the lapse and explains how it feels to her personally, “It feels like crying –things like that make me very sad.”
Dr. Martin Goldstein, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York explains her diagnosis, “There seems to be a greater degree of atrophy, shrinkage of the hippocampus”. He described finding sticky protein amyloid brain plaques that typically indicate Alzheimer’s disease, “It’s everywhere”. Gasby said his first response was shock, and anger as he asked, “Well, how could this happen?”
That diagnosis changed the course for Dan and B., as they joined the estimated 5.3 million Americans who also live with the brain disease, which is the 6th leading cause of death, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dan says he “made the same assumption that almost all newcomers to this challenging subject do”, describing thinking it was all about the loved one who now had Alzheimer’s “she was the patient – maybe the word was ‘victim'”. He soon learned the challenge was as “formidable” for him, as a caretaker, as it was for her, honestly admitting, “any person, given a choice between having Alzheimer’s and caring for someone who does, would choose the caregiver role.”
“Being a caregiver is hard,” Dan says, describing it as “definitely the hardest thing” he has ever done in his life, not a trite statement for a man who grew up in one of the toughest inner-city neighborhoods in New York, and then worked his way to success. This experience motivates Dan to speak up and reach out to inspire others who share the challenge of caring for someone who suffers the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In fact, Dan has put his words in print with a new book called “Before I Forget”, and he tells caregivers that although it sounds obvious, they should read the literature because there is so much to learn in terms of ways to cope.
Learning as much as possible about Alzheimer’s helped Dan become fascinated and comforted as he discovered what doctors now know to date, and what progress is being made toward finding a cure. He also encourages others to connect with their local branch of the Alzheimer’s Association to learn more about research and commonsense help for caregivers. He has learned not to treat B. as if she doesn’t exist by referring to her in third person when in a group, because even those who are severely impaired can sense when they are excluded from conversation, even if they don’t participate, and he cautions against finishing their sentences, but says to give time for responding, instead.
Condescension and being critical is debilitating and does not work, Dan says about his own experience with dealing with forgetfulness and other symptoms. He describes consciously keeping conversations with B. geared toward the option for her to simply answer “yes” or “no” to help support her participation in conversation and decisions. For example, “How about these black pants” would be more supportive and appropriate than “What would you like to wear today?”
Possibly the most important inspiration Dan can share with other Alzheimer’s caregivers is to never lose sight of the dignity of the human being through the process, help them retain their own humanity because they are still the people we knew, and love. He stresses the need to honor that, always, to the last, for both the patient, and the caregiver’s sake.
Fucoidan Force is an internationally esteemed health support company who encourages communities to join National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month all year long by encouraging and supporting those suffering with Alzheimer’s, as well as their caretakers. Learn more about the latest advances in brain research on the website.
Release ID: 96446