Glen Campbell's Wife Reflects On The Country Legend's Battle With Alzheimer’s

Nov 1, 2017

It’s been three months since country music legend Glen Campbell died. He was 81 years old. His wife, Kim Campbell, will be in Mulvane on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about the effects of Alzheimer’s and supporting caregivers.

Interview highlights

Carla Eckels: You were married to Glen Campbell for more than three decades. What was your relationship like?

Kim Campbell: Well, we had a beautiful marriage. We met in 1981, were married in ’82, had three children together, had a beautiful life, and then it was all taken away from us by Alzheimer’s disease.

When did you notice that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s?

He was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2009, and I first started noticing that he would be repetitive – ask the same questions over and over again. He was OCD about certain things. The cars had to be parked just right, everything had to be done just right, [he] had a lot of anxiety and depression – just early warning signs that something wasn’t right.

In 2009, we went to the doctor, and there were some cognitive issues. Back then, the way to positively diagnose Alzheimer’s was through an autopsy, but as we show in our film, by the time Glen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, they had developed something called an Amyvid PET scan and that actually shows the tangles and the plaques, so we knew 100 percent that he had Alzheimer’s.

I know you were right there with him through all of this as a caregiver and I’m glad you mentioned the documentary, “I’ll Be Me.” Why did you decide to go public with his illness?

Well, we were all set to go out and do a tour to promote Glen’s latest album “Ghost on the Canvas” when we got the diagnosis. The doctor said if he feels good and he enjoys it, I think music would be really healthy for him. Music activates all the regions of the brain at once. It’s very stimulating for the neurons, but we had a meeting to decide if we should tour or if we should cancel it and Glen said, "I feel fine. I’m going to go out and do my show with my family and do what I love."

I said, “Honey, what happens if you mess up?" We didn’t really know what to expect from Alzheimer’s, and he was repeating himself and forgetting what key his song was in, things like that. He said, "If I mess up, I’ll just tell everybody I’ve got Alzheimer’s."

So it was really his decision to go public with the diagnosis and that worried me – is anybody going to want to come and see anyone with Alzheimer's perform? But our very first show sold out, and it seems that people just came out in droves to love him and support him and root for him and I had no idea that there were 5.6 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and 15 million caregivers out there. I think that they all related to what we were going through and just really wanted to come out and support him.

Can you talk to us about your website, "CareLiving"? Why did you create it?

When Glen entered the later stages of the disease, the disease became so challenging for me, and I was so depressed to see, to be losing my husband gradually and slowly, little by little, day by day, to this disease. Seeing him losing his ability and forgetting who I was, I was so depressed. I joined a support group with other women whose husbands had dementia, and they were all depressed too. I said, "What are we going to do?"

Depression can make you sick, and so I just started writing and I tried to find something positive to say, something uplifting and encouraging to say to other caregivers. Doing that, it really helped me fight the depression. It resonated with a lot of people around the country because we’ve grown so fast and have gotten such great engagement from the caregiving community that we decided to launch the Caregiving Foundation at the beginning of next year to try to find real-world ways to help caregivers.

Kim Campbell will be sharing her journey as a caregiver as part of the Alzheimer's Association Central and Western Kansas' "I'll Be Me – An Evening with the Campbell Family" event at the Kansas Star Casino and Events Center.

The engagement will take place on at 6: 30 p.m. on Nov. 1, and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 2. On the first night, Kim shares her journey as a caregiver for her late husband, country music legend Glen Campbell. She'll be joined by their children, Ashley and Shannon Campbell, who'll play some of their father's music, as well as their own. A conference will take place the following day where Kim will speak.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Glen Campbell's "Ghost on the Canvas" album as "Ghost on the Campus."

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Carla Eckels is interim news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

 

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