For ten years until his father’s death in 2009, Gary LeBlanc was faithfully there as his father fought through the ups and downs of having Alzheimer’s disease. LeBlanc’s ensuing book about his experience has helped thousands of people navigate tough times. It’s titled Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness.
Now LeBlanc has joined hands with friend Rick Phelps for a second book, this one gleaned from audio recordings made while Phelps himself was experiencing the early stages of the disease. It’s called While I Still Can. Phelps and LeBlanc met through Memory People, an Alzheimer’s-related Facebook page founded by Phelps.
“Rick was diagnosed at age 57 with early-onset Alzheimer’s,” said LeBlanc in a telephone interview. “It took seven years to get him diagnosed. Even his family doctor wouldn’t believe he had it.”
To write from Phelps’ perspective, LeBlanc went through 300 hours of Phelps’ voice recordings, which included literally everything he was experiencing, such as being in denial about having Alzheimer’s, his handling of the diagnosis, and his coping mechanisms.
“Rick was still early enough in the disease to explain what was happening to him then,” said LeBlanc. “The book can answer a lot of questions about what people with Alzheimer’s actually feel and go through in the disease’s early stages. It also has strategies and a lot of common sense advice for caregivers.”
A National Institutes of Health website defines Alzheimer’s disease as a form of dementia, which is the “loss of cognitive functioning-thinking, remembering, and reasoning-and behavioral abilities to such an extent it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.”
LeBlanc said one common mistake people make in caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is not asking for help. People often have a lot of pride, he said, and caregivers especially need to look at the big picture to figure out what is best for everyone.
Said LeBlanc, “Rick is about ready now to go into the moderate stage of the disease. He is having a hard time, yet handles himself well. But that is why the title of the book is what it is because Rick is definitely running out of time.”
While writing and listening to Phelps’s voice recordings, LeBlanc often had to relive what he experienced with his father and also face his own fears of having Alzheimer’s. He said, “Some days I think I already have it.”