So far, Brian Gaughan has faced countless challenges, both in his professional life and his personal life. He worked as a police officer for 10 years and then as a firefighter/paramedic for 23 years. He is a father of 8 and a grandfather of 13 (with #14 on the way!). His latest obstacle presented itself in July of 2020 when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 61.
He noted that this diagnosis “wasn’t really a shock at all,” as he had been experiencing significant memory problems and forgetfulness. “It’s not like, ‘Where are my keys?’ It’s like, ‘How do I get to work today?’” Rather than dwell on his early onset diagnosis, Brian said that his diagnosis pushed him and his wife, Judy, to “do things that [they] would be putting off” and to start crossing things off of Brian’s bucket list. First thing on the list? A road trip across the Pacific northwest in an RV. Brian noted that his Alzheimer’s diagnosis caused him and Judy to rearrange their priorities and that Brian wanted to prioritize enjoying his life and having fun. In fact, his advice for anyone who has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is to “sit down and figure out what you want to do [in life] and go do it right away.”
Through the Alzheimer’s Association, Brian has found a supportive network and a newfound voice of advocacy and change. His devotion to the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is evident in his immense involvement within the organization. Soon after his initial diagnosis, he regularly attended a regional Young Onset Support Group in which he connected with other people who were dealing with their own diagnoses. Recently, Brian was selected as a member of the Alzheimer’s Association national Early Stage Advisory Group, a role in which he will act as a spokesperson for other people with early onset Alzheimer’s, and participate in various speaking engagements. Previously, Brian provided testimony to an Illinois House of Representatives committee regarding mandated training for physicians. He hopes to do more lobbying in the future for increased education and research pertaining to dementia.
There is no doubt that Brian will continue demonstrating immense courage when faced with challenges throughout his dementia journey – just like he has done when faced with adversity throughout his storied career as a first responder. What’s next for Brian? Well, he and Judy are still figuring out where their next RV destination will be, but one thing is for certain – he needs to make it back to Chicago by the end of August to meet grandchild #14!
Contributor: Amanda Wisinger, Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer