Lifestyle Guru B. Smith Dies at 70 From Early Onset-Alzheimer's Disease—Here's What That Means
She began experiencing symptoms like forgetfulness in her early 60s.
Former model, restaurateur, cookbook author, and lifestyle guru B. Smith passed away on Saturday at the age of 70 after her battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
"It is with great sadness that my daughter Dana and I announce the passing of my wife, Barbara Elaine Smith," her husband, Dan Gasby, said in a statement shared to Facebook. "B. died peacefully Saturday, February 22, 2020, at 10:50 pm, of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in our home in Long Island, New York."
Gasby went on to thank Smith's caregivers, along with her family and friends for their support in her final days. "Thank you to everyone for respecting our privacy during this agonizing time," he wrote.
During her seven decades on earth, the lifestyle guru put together a vibrant resumé. From becoming one of the first African American women to grace the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976 and hosting a popular syndicated talk show, to running three high-profile restaurants and publishing multiple best-selling cookbooks, her accomplishments were varied and impressive.
However, in 2013 at the age of 64, she lost her train of thought during a cooking demonstration on NBC’s Today. Because she had been experiencing forgetfulness for two or three years, she decided to see a doctor, who diagnosed her with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She went public with her diagnosis the next year.
"It feels like crying," she told CBS in a 2014 interview when she was asked how it felt to not remember details such as the date, year, or month. "Things like that make me very sad."
What is early-onset Alzheimers?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, or a loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that starts with mild memory loss, but eventually leads to the loss of ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. On average, a person with Alzheimer's will live four to eight years after diagnosis, but may live as long as 20 years after, depending on other factors, per the CDC.
Age, gender, and race are all factors when it comes to the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Per the Alzheimer's Association, almost two-thirds of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s are women, and older African Americans are twice as likely to get it as older caucasians.
In regards to age, the majority of people—5.6 million—are first diagnosed with the disease over the age of 65. Just 200,000 under 65 are diagnosed with it. “Early-onset Alzheimer's disease is Alzheimer's disease that strikes before the age of 65 (meaning, the person has their first symptoms by then),” Carolyn Fredericks, MD, a Yale Medicine neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and memory disorders, explains to Health. While the symptoms are similar to later-onset disease—including memory loss, and over time severe dementia and disability—the disease tends to hit harder and faster. “Symptoms progress more quickly in people who develop early-onset disease,” says Dr. Fredericks.
This was the case with B., whose health diminished quickly, according to NPR. Instead of hiding behind her diagnosis, she decided to use her fate to educate others about Alzheimer's, especially those within the African American community. She even managed to collaborate on a book with her husband, Before I Forget, to share about her experience with the disease and to help others with it as well as their loved ones on their own journeys, and also make public service announcements about it.
The last years of Smith's life were spent at her weekend home in Long Island Sound with Gasby and his girlfriend, Alex Lerner, who both cared for her. Gasby ended his Facebook post saying, "heaven is shining even brighter now that it is graced with B.'s dazzling and unforgettable smile."
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