Health & Fitness

Glen Campbell’s wife talks about caring for an Alzheimer’s patient

Glen Campbell in 2014.
Glen Campbell in 2014. NYT

As most everyone knows, country music legend Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. Today, at 80, he’s in the late stages of the disease and living in a long-term care center near Nashville, where family and friends visit daily.

His wife Kim Campbell and their children cared for him at home for several years. “Things were just getting out of control and crazy,” Kim Campbell said. “I did it as long as I could. It was heart-breaking.”

The Campbell family’s experience with Alzheimer’s drew national attention after the release of “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” a documentary featuring his final tour in 2012. The film depicts his cognitive problems – from forgetting lyrics on stage to becoming belligerent in private – even as he continues to crack jokes and entertain adoring audiences from Los Angeles to New York.

Kim Campbell, who married the country singer in 1982 and is mother to three of his eight children, said her husband wanted to share his story to “let the world know what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s.” But now that he’s declined even more, she said she struggles with how much to reveal. “I want to protect his dignity, his privacy and his safety. But I also want to educate the public.”

“Physically he’s healthy,” she said. “He walks. He can feed himself. … He has lost his ability to communicate verbally. He doesn’t understand language. … He has been combative in the past, which is typical of many people with dementia. … He can’t play guitar anymore, but sometimes he plays ‘air guitar.’ It’s really adorable. He still has his sense of humor.”

For awhile, Kim Campbell said music was soothing when her husband became agitated. But that no longer works. “The saying is, ‘You try something and do it until it doesn’t work anymore.’ It’s constant trial and error.”

When she, her children and others took care of him at home, they took turns “in teams of two,” she said. “No one person can take care of a person with Alzheimer’s. It’s so exhausting. Every single minute you have to be with them and supervise what’s going on.”

Like many caregivers, Kim Campbell has experienced “extreme depression for the past few years. … It’s really only my faith that has gotten me through. The Lord has put wonderful friends in my life. Without them I couldn’t make it.”

She urged caregivers to take care of themselves: “You can’t become the second victim of this disease.”