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Published in News Stories on April 02, 2015

Glen Campbell’s wife, panelists discuss Alzheimer’s toll on family, patients

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A bright light, the sounds of a movie projector and grainy footage pop on the theater screen as the audience views snippets of a young Glen Campbell, playing with his children, playing his guitar or just playing around. 

The quick glimpses into the past of one of music's biggest legends set the scene for the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, a film that chronicles his struggles and triumphs after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in 2011. 

"I was really surprised after we got the diagnosis how accepting of it Glen was," said his wife, Kim Campbell who spoke on a panel after the screening of the documentary at Malco's Grandview Theatre in Madison Tuesday night.

Kim Campbell joins other panelists after a screening of the documentary telling her husband's story with Alzheimer's.
Kim Campbell joins other panelists after a screening of the documentary telling her husband's story with Alzheimer's.

"As you see in the film, he says, 'I feel fine.' 

"Life continued."

Instead of just promoting his new album at the time - Ghost on the Canvas - Glen Campbell and his family turned the album tour into one bidding farewell to his fans. A tour and documentary filming schedule set to take five weeks was soon expanded into 151 shows, said Kim Campbell. 

One of those shows - while not appearing in the film - was in Jackson, a benefit for the MIND Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The couple decided to make the documentary to spread awareness of the disease that's estimated to impact five million Americans and 40 million worldwide. 

After watching the movie, which shows the slow progression of Alzheimer's in Glen Campbell while highlighting the impact on him and his loved ones, the CEO of Methodist Senior Services, Steve McAlilly, said he knew it was a film Mississippians needed to see. 

"It's a great gift and a great blessing that you have given the world," he told Kim Campbell during the panel discussion.

Glen Campbell at the MIND Center concert in Jackson in 2012.
Glen Campbell at the MIND Center concert in Jackson in 2012.

Saying MSS has a goal of making Mississippi one of the best places in the nation to grow old, McAlilly said his company worked with the MIND Center and the Mississippi Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association to air the movie at select venues across the state. 

With two showings each in Tupelo and Madison - and four in D'Iberville - the documentary was able to reach Mississippians from the top to the bottom of the state, said Renee Reid, , MSS spokeswoman. 

Estimating more than 500 metro area residents attended the day's screenings, Reed echoed McAlilly's sentiments on Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

"We were all so moved," she said. "We knew Mississippi needed this education." 

The MIND Center, one of the nation's leading Alzheimer's and dementia research organizations, worked with the Alzheimer's Association Mississippi Chapter to assemble the panelists who discussed aspects of the disease, including bringing in Kim Campbell to give updates on her husband and explain the process of slowly losing a loved one who is being robbed of his memories. 

"It was shocking and terrifying," Kim said of the initial diagnosis. "We of course had suspected that something was going on with Glen. In 2009, he had been diagnosed with MCI - mild cognitive impairment. And the doctor told us that sometimes this can develop into Alzheimer's and sometimes it doesn't."

Two years later, the diagnosis came, she said.

From left, Drs. Mosley and Windham
From left, Drs. Mosley and Windham

The importance of an early diagnosis is one that can offer at least some initial comfort, said Dr. Gwen Windham, director of the MIND Center Clinic, another panelist at the event. 

"The diagnosis is useful in many ways," she said. "I think one thing people sometimes come up against is, 'Well, I don't want to tell someone they have this diagnosis.' 

"But the patients will often come back and say, 'I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was. And just to know what it is now, I can cope with that better.' So it helps the patients to deal with the disease by putting a name on it and having the diagnosis," said Windham. "And then they can begin to work with family and their health-care team to make plans for what they want their future to look like." 

MIND Center Executive Director Dr. Tom Mosley updated the audience on the new research findings to come out of his center, including state-of-the-art imaging technology and the discovery of new genes affecting memory. 

"It's only very recently that we've been able to capture the pathology of Alzheimer's disease in someone who's alive as opposed to looking at the brain after someone is deceased," said Mosley. "So one of our leading areas of research is brain imaging. We want to be able to evaluate people earlier, many years before Glen had his first scan, to know that these things are changing in the brain, so hopefully when we have treatments, we can start them earlier." 

The second research area the MIND Center is focusing on includes genetics, said Mosley. "As you know genetics has blown up in the past decade. Ten years ago there were things that we couldn't measure. Five years ago we could measure a lot of things but they were too expensive. Now we can measure things that we could never do before at a level that we've never done before. The MIND Center leads some of the biggest studies in genetics worldwide." 

In the past year MIND Center researchers have identified new genes for memory, for executive function and for information processing speed, he said. 

"Finding the genes is one thing. Figuring out what they do and how to influence them is a whole other thing," said Mosley. "We're leading that effort from right here in Mississippi." 

Speaking to the caregiving aspect that comes with the disease, Windham pointed out that even though the MIND Center initially started as a research facility, it evolved to include clinical services within the last 18 months in response to community demand. 

"In the MIND Center Clinic we are devoted to our patients who have memory problems or memory complaints," she said. "Even if they've been diagnosed with dementia before, if there are services we can provide, we are happy to help. It can be an initial evaluation, or a second opinion, or a look over their medicines, or if they have issues with behavioral things and don't know how to handle them. 

"We're here to help with the day-to-day medical things and also with support from our nursing and social worker staff. We work as a team together to offer those services to whomever needs that in the state," she added. 

Kim Campbell, said it's important for someone who has Alzheimer's to have a big support team around them, but the same is true for the primary caregiver. 

"It's easy to get swallowed up by this disease and become a victim of it yourself," she said. "There's depression, like we talked about in the film, and I deal with that every day of my life because it's really sad to see someone lose their memories and to be losing the one you love little by little each day." 

Panelist Sara Murphy, representing the Mississippi Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, said her organization provides support services to both the patient and the caregivers, a crucial tool in helping families cope with the devastating disease.

Kim Campbell listens as Quayle shares his own experiences with Alzheimer's.
Kim Campbell listens as Quayle shares his own experiences with Alzheimer's.

Also appearing on the panel was Mike Quayle, an Alzheimer's patient who was diagnosed in 2013. Like Glen Campbell, he too wants to spread awareness of the disease while he still is able. 

McAlilly asked Quayle what he did to work on retaining as much of his memory for as long as he possibly could. 

"I sing Wichita Lineman," Quayle jokingly answered, referencing the Glen Campbell song performed by the singer during various rehearsals and behind-the-scene moments. 

"It really changed things. Like Glen said in the movie, you don't remember things, I'm sad to say. 

"I have trouble with numbers, dates, times. I have to ask my wife sometimes what year it is. I don't remember how to go places. I've always been a self-started, an A-plus personality," said Quayle. "I grew up without a dad, worked all my life. I never depended on anybody, didn't trust anybody. It was a tough way to grow up, but that's the way I did. 

"And now all of a sudden - the Lord has taught me how to rely on my daughter,  son and wife and Sara from the Alzheimer's Association" he added. 

Asked how she had to deal with Glen Campbell's diagnosis, Kim Campbell said, "I think I said in the film, a merry heart it like a good medicine. We've just always been a really close family. 

"Glen's always had an incredible sense of humor. I think life, what's the old adage, it's 20 percent of what happens to you and 80 percent of how you respond to it." 

Now living in a memory-support community in Nashville, Glen Campbell is still showcasing his humor, said Kim Campbell. 

"We have a great support team around us there," she said. "Glen has pretty severe aphasia. He's lost the ability to communicate verbally for the most part. He can say little sentences like, 'I love you.' Or sometimes he'll say, 'We are so blessed.' 

"The other thing I notice regarding humor is that even though Glen can't communicate, a lot of it is gibberish, I can tell that he's telling jokes. 

"He'll just jibber-jabber something and then he'll just start laughing. And of course it makes me laugh and that delights him because he's made us laugh. He's always been an entertainer and always been about trying to brighten people's day and make people happy.

"Humor is still getting us through today."