Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

One of the most acclaimed and successful American entertainers of all time is an Arkansas country boy named Glen Campbell. In his heyday, Campbell was truly the king of all media: first and foremost a singer with 36 chart hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle On My Mind,” he also happened to be host of a network TV variety series, a movie star and an instrumentalist so accomplished that he was an elite studio musician in his early days.

In 2011 Campbell – who was 75 years old at the time – announced a series of concerts that would be a victory lap for his five-decade career. They would also be a poignant farewell, because he also revealed that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

A new documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, follows the entertainer on this final tour and powerfully traces the entertainer’s decline as his disease progresses. It is heartbreaking to see this gifted man virtually fade away before your eyes.

Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist and a professor of neurology for Weill Cornell Medical College, has seen the movie and he believes that it may help educate audiences about Alzheimer’s, which affects more than 5 million Americans.

“It is excellent, very perceptive … fascinating for a neurologist,” Masdeu says. “The film is really a moving and informative documentary.”

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
Glen Campbell and his daughter Ashley Campbell perform in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which will open in Houston Nov. 21. (Photo courtesy of PCH Films)

Masdeu is impressed how matter-of-factly the film depicts Alzheimer’s symptoms and a patient’s state of mind. In the opening scenes, Campbell watches old home movies with his wife Kim. Campbell recognizes no one – not his then-wife, not his own children, not even himself. Later, in a medical examination, Campbell is incapable of naming the first U.S. president and cannot identify where he is at the time.

But even in the face of this devastating condition, the film is a joyous celebration of Campbell’s music and strikes a hopeful note as it shows his family’s love and support. “It shows how, when a family understands the disease, a patient’s life can be wonderful,” Masdeu says.

Masdeu also applauded the film’s depiction of the support Campbell received from audiences at shows along his tour. Because he could not remember song lyrics, Campbell was completely dependent on teleprompters. One sequence begins when the teleprompter system crashes, and Campbell brings the performance to a dead halt. The camera does not turn away as viewers relive awkward minutes until the system is restored and the show goes on.

James Keach, the film’s director, says scenes like that and others, which starkly depict Campbell’s condition, were tough to film and to experience. “We had the complete, total support of Glen’s family … ultimately, they want to help educate everyone about the true face of Alzheimer’s disease.”

In fact, Campbell himself asked Keach and his partner Trevor Albert to make the documentary. Keach and Albert co-produced the Academy Award-winning Walk The Line, about Johnny Cash and June Carter, and at first they believed they were going to create a simple music documentary about Glen Campbell.

“Originally we thought there was no way to make an upbeat movie about Alzheimer’s disease,” Keach says. “But we saw Glen’s humor and courage, his faith and his love for his family even as he faced this horrible disease. And we saw the love and complete support that came from his family … That is truly the heart of this film.”

 

By the time Campbell finished the tour of 151 shows in 2012, his skills had deteriorated noticeably. In April of this year, he was admitted into a long-term care facility. Keach says his disease has progressed to the point where communication is nearly impossible.

Even so, the 78-year-old Campbell can still occasionally pick up a guitar and play with some of the skill that made him a sought-after musician decades ago. Masdeu says this shows how the disease does not affect the entire brain at one time, but affects some areas more than others. Keach believes it also proves how deeply music is embedded in Glen Campbell.

“Music is his first language,” Keach adds, “and it’s the last thing he’s going to forget.”

Music is Glen Campbell's first language and the last thing he’s going to forget Click To Tweet

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is currently playing in select theaters around the country. It will open in Houston on Nov. 21 for a limited engagement.

Holiday caregiver tips for dealing with Alzheimer’s

“Holiday season.” These two words, in my mind and probably in your mind as well, bring up many images and memories of traditions and events; most often with family and friends. Year after year, we look forward with joy and sometimes trepidation as the celebratory time draws close. For individuals and families dealing with memory and behavior changes due to Alzheimer’s disease, finding joy might be challenging, but it can be done.

My experience with families and individuals over the years has taught me the keys to a positive holiday season are about managing expectations and planning early. The hustle and bustle that is a common theme of this time of year brings some stress for all of us; but it can be a constant companion for individuals and families dealing with dementia or cognitive impairment.

When dealing with Alzheimer's memory and behavior changes, it's all about managing expectations and planning Click To Tweet

Instead of giving up on enjoying the holiday season, I would suggest making some minor adjustments to your family traditions such as:

  • Keep your loved one as involved as possible. Consider what areas they can be involved in safely to give them a sense of purpose – open cards together, discuss gift selections, or allow simple baking tasks. Try to focus on the moment about the memories you are making rather than the outcome or perfect results.
  • Be consistent with medications and physician recommendations. Even though you are busy, you will find that maintaining the structure of medications, treatments and day programs will be better for your loved one and, ultimately, for you.
  • Choose decorations and allow yourself to make changes from past celebrations. Make sure your loved one’s living space is safe – lighted candles may be a hazard and large blinking lights can cause disorientation. You can still create a beautifully decorated home, accepting that the décor may be very different from years past.
  • Recognize the effects of overstimulation. Minimize overstimulation and your anxiety level as this can transfer to your loved one. Keep activities simple and alert your guests ahead of time about your own needs and wishes. Lessen the number of visitors; simplify the plan; and allow a few days on either side of an event to be quiet and relaxing.
  • Care for YOU. Make a list of the usual things you do during the holidays. Decide which you want to keep in your plan and what you can skip. Allow others to help you and be clear in what your need for them to do. Include time away for yourself and ways that help you regain your energy. 

For more information on Alzheimer’s diseasevisit the Nantz National Alzheimer Center or call 713.441.1150. 

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