Alzheimer’s, Country Music and Love

It was a classic love story. 1981. A talented, attractive dancer meets a successful, handsome singer on a blind date. Love at first sight, marriage, three beautiful children, and happily ever after.

Flash forward thirty years to 2011. The now iconic singer and his family announce he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Sound familiar? The famous singer, songwriter and guitarist is Glen Campbell, arguably one of the most popular US country artists of all time. A six-time Grammy winner and Grammy Lifetime Achievement award winner, Glen recorded over 70 albums and sold over 50 million records. His many hits include “Gentle On My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I recently had the chance to hear Glen’s wife, Kim Campbell, speak at a public event to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. Kim is candid, funny, and inspiring, as she tells the story of Glen’s diagnosis in 2011 and his farewell concert tour which concluded in late 2012. Despite having progressive difficulties with memory, judgment, and moodiness, Glen’s final tour was a terrific success, selling out in every venue he played.

The farewell tour and Glen’s journey with Alzheimer’s was filmed and has been released in an award-winning documentary called “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.” I have nothing but the highest praise for this film. It’s inspiring, educational, entertaining and definitely real. You must see it.

Glen’s final studio album, “Ghost in the Canvas” featured songs and lyrics inspired by his thoughts and fears about the disease. The Grammy-winning single “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is a poignant tale of someone who realizes he will reach a point where he no longer remembers those most dear to him.

Raising awareness

Kim Campbell said part of her mission is to help erase the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease by talking about it openly. Here are several basic facts from the Alzheimer’s Association which are worth repeating:

  • Alzheimer’s disease currently affects over 5 million Americans, or 1 in 9 among those over age 65.
  • It is the most common cause of dementia and it is a terminal illness with no known cure.
  • Over 15 million caregivers provide support and love to those with the illness. Collectively, they provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
  • The total cost to the nation in health care for people with Alzheimer’s is estimated at $236 billion in 2016.
  • Symptoms can vary, but in addition to worsening memory problems, apathy and depression are common. Later symptoms include impaired communication, disorientation, confusion, poor judgment, behavior changes and, eventually, difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
  • The disease progresses at different rates for each person.
  • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • The disease also takes a great toll on families. Due to the financial burden from the illness, caregivers are more likely to not have enough money for basic necessities such as food and medical care.

Kim Campbell said that Glen, who is now in a supervised memory care residential community, has lost most of his ability to speak and to understand what others say to him. How much time he has left is not known, but he remains in good spirits.

Kim and Glen’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, is an up and coming country artist. She recently released a single called “Remembering,” which is a heartfelt tribute to her father and his battle with Alzheimer’s. The lyrics include, “We can talk until you can’t even remember my name; Daddy don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering.”

Kim said it’s important for family members and other caregivers to know “you’re not alone.” Help and support are available, and many resources exist to help caregivers navigate this very difficult journey.

The Campbell family has shown incredible courage with their decision to talk openly about Glen’s illness, its progression, and how it has affected their family. Take a few minutes to learn more about Alzheimer’s resources and how to support both the person with the disease and their caregivers.

Here’s a question: How have you or your family been affected by Alzheimer’s? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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