Glen Campbell’s wife comes to Boise to talk about her husband’s Alzheimer’s

One of the first signs that country music legend Glen Campbell was suffering cognitive problems was an inability to determine what key a song was in.

“That just wasn’t like him. He was such a genius musician,” Kim Campbell told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. “Of course he could play it in any key. ... Then he started messing up words to a song and repeating himself.”

He was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2009 and Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. The 79-year-old now lives in a memory care community in Nashville. He has lost his ability to carry on a conversation, but is still able to say, “I love you.”

Campbell went public with the news of his illness, and allowed his Goodbye Tour to be documented by filmmakers. The film “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” was released last fall. Kim Campbell answered questions at a screening Wednesday evening at The Egyptian Theatre.

“He was the one who wanted to make this film — to show what living with Alzheimer’s was like. He wanted to remove the stigma of getting this diagnosis,” Kim Campbell said.

During his 151-show tour that ended in 2013, he relied on a teleprompter to help him remember the words to his songs.

Kim Campbell has been married to Glen for almost 33 years, and they have three children: Cal, 32; Shannon, 30; and Ashley, 28. She said they all participate in Alzheimer’s education events when they can.

Most people don’t understand that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness that does more than rob people of memories.

“You lose your ability to think and reason. You lose your social filter,” she said. “You can hallucinate. You can have false memories. You become suspicious or paranoid.”

The way that those afflicted with Alzheimer’s view and understand the world changes. Something as benign as a shadow on the carpet might be perceived as a hole in the floor. Visual perception is affected and can lead to dangerous falls. Confusion over household items and appliances can result in fires and unintended injuries.

“Glen would put a straw hat on a lamp and turn the lamp on,” Kim Campbell said.

She said she educated herself on the illness with books and the Alzheimer’s Association website. She got involved with Alzheimer’s benefits and found comfort in meeting others going through the same thing.

“No one understands unless they’re going through it,” she said. She’s actively involved in Glen’s care, visiting him daily when she’s not traveling.

“We focus on the joy that we can find in each day, not the sadness of it all,” she said.

Looking for information or support? The 24-hour Alzheimer’s Association helpline is 800-272-3900, or visit the Alzheimer’s Association website. Its office in Boise is at 6126 W. State St., Suite 305 (call ahead for an appointment: 206-0041). Alzheimer’s Idaho Inc. provides education and support; go to the website or call 914-4719.