B. Smith, her husband, his girlfriend and alzheimer’sBringing attention to the most common form of dementia that affects all of a person’s brain functions
American lifestyle maven B. Smith’s life has been splashed across media outlets over the past week – she has Alzheimer’s, her husband Dan Gasby has a girlfriend and in December 2018 he announced he moved Alex Lerner into the house he shares with his wife. The story has pushed to the forefront the progressive neurodegenerative disease that is the most common form of dementia that affects all of a person’s brain functions and the toll it can take on caregivers, but also raised the issue of those marital vows that speaks to in sickness and in health.
Barbara Smith, who was known as B. Smith and who has been described as the black Martha Stewart, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013.
In December 2018, Gasby as the caretaker announced that he had moved his girlfriend into the home he still shares with the restaurateur and former model to whom he has been married for 26 of their 27-and-a-half years together.
He and his girlfriend are going on a year-and-a-half of being together.
“I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I don’t believe death do you part means that because you made a commitment, if the person is not there that you should sit there and watch your life shrivel up, and that’s why I am where I am today, taking care of B. and having someone else in my life,” said Gasby, 64, in a quote from a story in The Washington Post (WP).
His girlfriend has her own room in B. and Gasby’s home.
In his WP interview Gasby said he has told B. that Alex is his girlfriend, and that it doesn’t seem to register.
According to the WP story, B. no longer recognizes herself in photos and the disease has ravaged her brain.
The response from B.’s fans were fast and furious in the days since Gasby went public with his girlfriend and the WP story with people calling him disrespectful for moving what they termed his “mistress” into his wife’s home and showing pictures of his wife smiling with his girlfriend.
One person wrote on Facebook: “You don’t bring your mistress in the house where your wife lives. She’s not dead.”
Many of her fans question whether B., 69, and Gasby had conversations about him moving forward with his life before her disease progressed to the point where she became unaware, and whether she wanted herself to be shown as she now is.
Another wrote: “I know someone who is in B.’s husband’s shoes. She has chosen to continue to love her husband unconditionally and to not add another love interest to the equation. I see no honor in what B.’s husband is doing.”
But there are Gasby proponents as well with some writing on social media “Kindness, people. Not judgment. So, give B. Smith’s husband a break. Walk a mile in his shoes and empathize and stop your judgement.”
While another wrote: “Those who have not lived it should not pass judgement. Those who have lived it should know better than to pass judgement.”
Neurologist Dr. Edwin Demeritte, when contacted about the disease, said the B. Smith and Dan Gasby story brings to the forefront the fact that people need to have conversations about what’s to be done in situations when diseases like Alzheimer’s become a factor in their lives.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects all of a person’s brain functions.
According to Demeritte, in the earlier phase of dementia, memory, particularly short-term memory, is affected first; a person forgets where they put their keys, somebody gives them a phone number or message, they tend to forget it. As dementia progresses other brain systems are affected, leading to personality changes, rapid disruption in behavior, cognitive functioning and the processing functioning starts to get more affected.
Looking at the B. and Gasby story from the human aspect the doctor said moralistically it’s a tough situation.
“When people get married the expectation is you should be there for me through thick and thin, and although the wife has gotten sick you have to take care of her. He should not have done that [moved his girlfriend into the house] at all. It sounds to me that he has moved on with his life,” said Demeritte.
Before the disease took a stranglehold on her memories, B. had said she first noticed something was amiss during a cooking demonstration on the “Today” show, when she was explaining her chicken wings recipe to Savannah Guthrie, and she went blank.
“This is what I do. I marinate it in reduced … ummm … ummm.” Guthrie tried to help by offering the words “reduced balsamic” – but B. could not remember the name of the liquid in the bowl in front of her. She was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s not long after that appearance in 2013.
“In the beginning when it was starting to happen with me I didn’t get it,” she said during a “Today” show appearance after that.
She and Gasby also penned the book “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s” by B. Smith and Dan Gasby in 2016. B. and Gasby worked with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson to share their story. Crafted in short chapters that interweave their narrative with practical and helpful advice, readers learn about dealing with Alzheimer’s day-to-day challenges: the family realities and tensions, ways of coping, and research.
Demeritte said dementia is a process, and that a person doesn’t jump one day from being normal to dementia the next day.
“That step from normal to dementia where you may be a little more forgetful but it doesn’t affect your function is a disorder that we call a mild-cognitive impairment, where you’re forgetting a little more than usual, but it’s not impacting your function and that stuff can last for many years. And then you go into early dementia, then mid-dementia and late dementia. When you hit your late stage Alzheimer’s dementia, you basically may have forgotten how to take care of yourself. You need somebody to help essentially with all activities of living – feeding, bathing, all of that stuff. You may be talking to somebody and they can’t keep track of the conversation; they can’t respond to you appropriately. And when you start to do more complex commands or questions, or multi-step commands, it’s much more difficult for them to do as the dementia progresses. Then your long-term memory gets affected – you forget the names of your loved ones, you don’t recognize people. As the dementia progresses, it can get to the point where the stuff you were doing all your life, that’s when you start to forget that aspect.”
The doctor said the B. and Gasby story is a reminder of what he tells all of his patients in the early stages of the disease who are still able to make executive decisions, also that they should clear up all of their affairs and appoint a power of attorney to an individual and give instructions for how they want their life to go in the event they’re no longer able to make decisions.
“Talk to people. Settle your affairs. If you have a will, a trust, any instructions as to what to do as the disease progresses, that’s when you want to catch it,” said the neurologist who practices out of the Bahamas Neurological Centre, #10 Caves Village, West Bay Street. “I’ve seen people go, and then the family starts fighting over who is getting what and what have you.”
He said another difficulty that comes in when somebody is in early dementia and still in control of their faculties is questionable behavior such as spending all of their money, or taking it and giving it away to a young girlfriend/boyfriend.
“You see some behaviors, but when you question them they’re still cognitively intact and legally able to make their own decisions, but you have to talk to the family about that because that’s in the early phase.”
When the disease-afflicted is moderately impacted by the disease and family is looking to take control, they would then have to go the route of the court system to have the individual declared mentally incompetent.
“When you start noticing a family member being a little more forgetful about new information – losing their keys, getting lost, truly searching for words and they’re not coming … have it checked out.”
He said you want to slow the disease process so that they can continue to function at their current independent level for the next two to three decades as opposed to requiring assistance to do practically all of their daily living activities.
“And family members want to do it early, because looking at a loved one who is deteriorating right before your eyes becomes very traumatic,” said Demeritte.
Who gets dementia and when
According to the doctor as you age, everyone is at risk for dementia, but not everyone develops dementia as he said some 90-year-olds are as “sharp as a tack” and there are some people who are decades younger who can’t remember anything.
“Once you get beyond 60 and each decade, the incidence of it tends to double every decade.”
Dementia before age 60, he said is referred to as early, or pre-senile dementia.
B.’s stepdaughter Dana Gasby, in the interview recalled seeing signs as far back as 2008 while at university when she said she and B. would have the same conversation in one day. She recalled WebMD’ing it and saying B. had Alzheimer’s. She said B. and her father brushed her off.
“Usually there are symptoms that are popping up, and with Alzheimer’s dementia as opposed to some of the other ones, it’s a gradual chronic thing. People may say they noticed over the last year or two someone seems to be a bit more forgetful … not himself.”
According to the doctor, Alzheimer’s makes up about 70 to 75 percent of dementias, followed by vascular dementia at about 10 percent, and then all of the other dementias including dementias from various medications.
When a diagnosis is made, he said a family member or close friend should be present to make verification as well as give insight into how long the process has been occurring.
While not curable, Demeritte said the disease can be controlled for a longer period with medication. Preventative steps he said also include reading as evidence suggests that readers are less likely to get dementias. He said people should also strive to keep their minds active.
“As you get older, the expectation is that although your memory stuff may be slower, you still will remember. If you’re working on math or figures or calculation, you may process it slow, but you should still be able to process it,” he said.