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In 2013, former model and restaurateur, Barbara Smith, aka B. Smith, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and since then her husband of 27 years, Dan Gasby, a former TV executive, has been caring for her. In 2016, the couple wrote a book about the early stages of Alzheimer’s titled "Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer's." Since then, B., 69, has steadily declined. While Gasby, 64, has been caring for B. he started dating 53-year-old Alex Lerner and received criticism from many of B.’s fans. He shared his thoughts with TODAY.
It started with an overheard comment. I was chatting with a friend when I mentioned how lonely I felt. For years, I have been caring for my wife, B. Smith, who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The stress was taking its toll. I was overweight, relying on food and alcohol to cope. During our marriage B. and I had a wonderful partnership, but I was watching our relationship slowly dissolve as her memory failed her.
But that day, Alex Lerner — a woman I knew from East Hampton where B. and I live — heard me talking and reached out to offer support. Alex was caring for her father, who also had Alzheimer’s disease, and she understood all too well how I felt.
So we met for coffee. We both were caring for people who were not the people we once knew. Essentially, our loved ones were gone, but physically still here. She knew what it was like struggling to have a conversation with a person who possessed none of your shared memories, who couldn’t follow the plot of a movie or TV show, who can’t read a menu or even go to the bathroom without help. While I didn’t feel comfortable putting B. in an assisted living facility, I still felt isolated and frustrated with what Alzheimer’s had done to our life.
Caring for someone with dementia is thankless. I need to watch B. closely so she doesn’t accidentally turn the gas on and cause a fire or explosion, for example. Even a meal is full of danger because B. could choke. As much as I try maintaining B.’s dignity and my sanity, there are days I feel like I am underwater. Alzheimer’s didn’t just take B.’s memory of our 27 years together. It also made her irrational and moody. Sometimes she lashes out at me, confused as to who I am.
Alex understood. Soon, we discovered we had more in common than having loved ones with Alzheimer’s and we enjoyed each other’s company. I found myself again laughing and being happy.
When B. was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and we wrote “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Health, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer’s,” she and I talked about what she wanted. She said if she were incapacitated, she wanted me to care for her but also have my own life. Honestly, when we first talked years prior to her illness, I thought I would be the one who would need to be cared for, not her.
As Alex became a trusted friend something else happened. An intimate relationship blossomed. I learned that Alex was a kind, caring and generous woman. She reminded me of B. But Alex felt hesitant. She was not seeking a relationship with a married man. As she spent more time with me and B., she saw that our relationship was now between a caregiver and a patient.
For as many negative comments that I have received, I also have heard from people thanking me for shining a light on a complicated marriage with a partner as caregiver.
After finding happiness with Alex, I shared the relationship on social media. The backlash was swift. People condemned me. They said I was an adulterer and taking advantage of B. and her money.
But I am doing what my wife asked me to do: Living my life. I can still care for B. and also have happiness thanks to Alex. I think that more and more people will be faced with the same situation where they will be caregivers in their marriage. But when they are lacking the intimacy they might seek it elsewhere, too. For as many negative comments that I have received, I also have heard from people thanking me for shining a light on a complicated marriage with a partner as caregiver.
Many think I am neglecting or abusing B. but that is not the case. I’m having a relationship that is complicated because my wife is no longer my wife. As I said before, I love my wife, but I can’t let her take away my life.