Dementia Meditations: Living on the Way to Dying

By Brian LeBlanc

I hate to be a downer. Anyone who truly knows me knows that – that I’m always looking to find the good, to find the laughter, to smile. Because we’re all “on the way out,” only at different stages. For me, with my Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, my “way out” may be a little closer than yours.

And that’s OK. Complications from dementia kills 100 percent of us. Life, even for healthy people, kills 100% of us. So let’s focus on living on the way to dying.

I spent last weekend at (you guessed it) Disney World with my life partner/care partner, Maureen, our granddaughter, Emma, and some close friends. It’s like my 4 billionth time there (you think I’m exaggerating haha), and each time I find something new and exciting. Or perhaps we can find some humor in that it’s only new and exciting because I don’t remember it from before. And you can see from the picture that I was completely helpless against being covered in Mickey Mouse stickers, compliments of our 4 year old Granddaughter, Emma. 🤣

This was Emma’s first visit to Walt Disney World.

Now, THAT’S living! Enjoying loved ones. Enjoying a happy place. Living in the moment. Relishing the time I have left. And I would hope, as my dementia progresses, I’m able to return time and again – even when I can’t communicate or move around freely. I’ll remember Maureen and Emma and other loved ones and the place – even if not by name – as something loving and pleasant.

I have to admit, this time was a bit different.

I have gone through some brain changes since the last time I went to WDW. I still remembered certain attractions, but I couldn’t remember the names of them. That made me very sad.

The BIG BLOWOUT, something happened that never thought would happen.

We were having a great time, especially when we saw the joy and happiness on the face of Emma and her new found friend

Living and Dying with Dignity

We’ve make a lot about a life worth living and dying with dignity in our messaging for #WeAreDementiaStrong, Caregiver Support and Resources, A Bit of Brian’s Brilliance, and our new Podcast. It’s a process. There’s a lot of planning and organization. Thankfully, that’s what Maureen does professionally. But even with her expertise, there’s a lot of learning and adjusting along the long-and-winding road.

We do what’s needed to light the path where it’s most dim, to smooth out the rough areas, to understand complex realities. And I thank God for Maureen coordinating all those doctor appointments, medications, memory-care treatments and outside-the-box thinking. She knows listening to music for a bit can snap me from a fog. She knows when to tell me about upcoming events and appointments – and just as importantly when not to tell me – to avoid unnecessary anxiety. 

So as we prepare for the end, whenever that may be, I know we’ll have that life worth living … together.

A Friend in the End

I’ve said for so long that I want to have a living memorial service. I want music, drinks, Hawaiian shirts, laughter, more drinks, more music, and memories (even if they’re no longer mine). Let’s celebrate the good years, the bad years, the in-between years. I hope for a friend in the end – a bunch of friends would be even better!

But death … when it happens … will be a solemn occasion. Lots of people will congregate at the funeral home, waiting in line to see the person they once knew lying in the casket.

They may shed a tear or two, say a prayer, and then they walk away. As they join family and friends, they say things like, “Oh, he looks so good.” or “WOW, their last days must have been hard seeing all the makeup they used.” They may live out of town and didn’t visit or make any phone calls during the last weeks or months, so knowing the details of decline and what to expect would be quite impossible.

These are folks who say, “Well, I would’ve called but I didn’t think he would understand what I was saying. I would have been embarrassed.”

I think you get the picture. But know the presence of loved ones, even if we may not comprehend, is still welcome. It’s actually vital to our well-being.

As my Alzheimer’s progresses, I know it or a related illness will probably lead to my death. But I’m not going to live out the rest of my days waiting for my time to come to an end.

I WANT TO LIVE as much as I possibly can. I want to visit places I’ve never been but always wanted to. 

I want to LIVE like there is no tomorrow with no regrets.

Peace

-B

Dementia Advocacy: Honored to Receive Southern Gerontological Society Award 

By Brian LeBlanc

When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, I could’ve never guessed the path ahead. Crazy. Amazing. Uncertain. Scary. Rewarding. All rolled into one. All I knew was that I felt a calling toward dementia advocacy and to help others on similar paths with education and resources. 

Fast-forward a few years, and I was absolutely honored, humbled and inspired to receive the Rhoda L. Jennings Distinguished Older Advocate Award from the Southern Gerontological Society. (OK, so Maureen jokes that seeing me “humbled” isn’t something everyone can say, but it’s true … 100% humbled to tears.)

The awards ceremony was held April 7 in Panama City, FL. The banquet hall was packed with so many wonderful people in the world of gerontology (a big, fancy word for aging), of which Alzheimer’s and dementia care is just a small part. So there were doctors, scientists and researchers, university professors and other educators, advocates, influencers – all spanning different disciplines and areas of expertise across the whole South. 

It was almost too much! Although, if you know me, the more people to chat with the better! (But again with my nasty habit of digressing.)

It was an honor to be considered a peer – even if just for a day – and to have my longtime efforts acknowledged toward Alzheimer’s and dementia advocacy and education. When I went up to receive the world, it was the best feeling ever to turn back around and see these great folks standing and applauding. 

And on a side note, I was so happy to be able to attend so soon after my recent pacemaker procedure.

Dementia Advocacy Through Outreach and Education

But more important than all that? The mission. #WeAreDementiaStrong has been steamrolling with the dementia advocacy mission. Maureen and I have always worked so hard to produce educational content, and we’ve been very blessed that so many organizations have offered us platforms to speak and/or write as guests. 

In the past 18 months, there’ve been some awesome developments:

  • #WeAreDementiaStrong now has 501(c)(3) status, allowing us to receive grants and donations to scale this awesome mission and reach more people.
  • Both #WeAreDementiaStrong and Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC now have new websites that are regularly updated with new informative content to help persons living with dementia and their care partners.
  • We’ve produced a new magazine –  “What To Do After A Dementia Diagnosis” – available in both downloadable PDF and hard-copy formats.
  • We’re launching the new #WeAreDementiaStrong podcast to reach greater audiences in the digital realm.
  • We’re producing new on-demand Continuing Education Credit opportunities with Inspired Memory Care for social workers, nurses, patient advocates and other professionals who serve roles in the continuum of dementia care.

And we’re happy to say, there are even more irons in the fire! More education. More partnerships. More avenues for community outreach. 

#WeAreDementiaStrong Is Here For YOU!

We walk this dementia path together. Maureen, the love of my life, is the absolute best care partner, life-care planner and Patient Advocate anyone can ask for. And we sincerely hope our lived experience – the good, the bad, the funny, the sad and the ugly – helps you in some small way.

We’re honored for the recognition. But there’s so much more work to do – while I still have breath in my lungs and perhaps a few healthy brain cells left to say what needs to be said.

Much love.

Peace,

-B

Pacemaker Update: ‘I’m In Love With Her and I Feel Fine’

By Brian LeBlanc

I owe you an update! 

If you haven’t seen from social media already, my recent pacemaker procedure went just fine. Of course, Maureen and I had some fears and trepidation heading into it. With my Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and long history of heart problems, even the most routine of surgeries brought so many risks.

What would dementia have to do with a heart surgery? Well, going under hard-core anesthetics could have completely wiped – or at least severely diminished – what remains of my precious memories and cognitive abilities. Thankfully, they used a twilight sedation to basically knock me into a state of semi-consciousness. The doctor apparently told me, “You’ll be able to hear us, but you won’t feel anything or remember anything.” I joked, “Doc, you know I have Alzheimer’s, right? It’s not going to matter anyways.”

I’d like to think everyone had a good laugh at that. But in all seriousness, even the twilight sedation could have left my already deteriorating mind in a dreaded fog – indefinitely. 

And then … it was over. So quick! On and off, in and out, like a light. Next thing I knew, I was waking up with Maureen at my side with a little pacemaker in my chest. We were all pleasantly surprised that there were no residual “foggy” effects. We thank our lucky stars, the Lord, whomever for that! 

(I’m told, however, that I was a bit flirty with a couple cute nurses. Me? Brian LeBlanc? No way! Maureen and I just laugh it off as me being silly.) 

I was scheduled to stay overnight for observation, but I was able to go home THAT VERY DAY! Even though Maureen (my wonderful and beautiful life partner/care partner) would’ve been able to stay with me, I was so happy to be able to sleep that night in our own bed. 

So in a nutshell, I’m home and happy and feeling well! Like that Beatles song goes, “I’m in love with her and I feel fine. (𝅗𝅥𝅘𝅥𝅰Do do-do-do do-do do-do-do𝅘𝅥𝅲𝅘𝅥𝅮).” 

Up and ‘Running’ A Few Days Later

Well, not running. But walking. And, believe me, that’s a huge, HUGE, HUGE, HUGE improvement

My heart had left me so weak. My sleeping heart rate had been dropping as low as 24 beats per minute. That’s frighteningly low. While awake, I couldn’t take a normal breath. My breathing was very, very shallow. Even going from the bedroom to the kitchen – maybe 30, 35 feet tops – was exhausting. (And I thought it was bad back when I was 285 pounds!)

As I mentioned previously, this was my fifth heart procedure. Three stents and a triple bypass in recent years had me scared how much more my ticker could take. 

But I already feel great. Maureen and I have been walking a mile a day around our beautiful 55-and-older community right on Tampa Bay! There’s a little loop around the complex, and now we can join our friends and neighbors in walking around it. We jokingly call it the “Senior Olympics track.”

I’m absolutely astonished at medical science. It’s just this itty-bitty disc implanted in my chest with little wires running to my heart. Pacemakers are nothing new. They’re simple. But they’re an absolute miracle. This little thing is SO POWERFUL!

Will it cure or fix my damaged heart? Absolutely not. Will it reverse the effects of my Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia by restoring more blood flow to my brain? Nope. Maybe it’ll slow the progression. Probably not too much, if any. 

But it will restore some quality of life. After all, as I preach for our nonprofit #WeAreDementiaStrong and Maureen for Caregiver Support and Resources, we’re all entitled to a life worth living

Special Thanks!

Without Maureen, I would not be here today. That was true years ago. And I’m in awe every day that not only does she help me, but thousands of others as a Board-certified Patient Advocate and life-care planner

Maureen and I are always happy to share my health experiences – living with dementia and other related/unrelated complications – and our lived experience with daily struggles and triumphs. That’s been my call to educate and help others since being diagnosed in 2014, and now with Maureen in the mix we can accomplish SO MUCH MORE! 

But I don’t share for me. And we don’t share for us. We share for YOU! As a result, we’ve gathered so many supporters who’ve offered well-wishes, prayers and support before and after the procedure. Thank you – a million times!

We’d also love to thank Dr. Jeffrey Steinhoff and the wonderful staff at the HCA Florida Heart Institute in Largo, FL. They treated me (and us) so wonderfully.

Peace,

-B