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Wife of Glen Campbell takes on role of Alzheimer’s advocate, speaker

In this Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, Glen Campbell, right, and his wife Kim pose backstage at the 45th Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn.
In this Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, Glen Campbell, right, and his wife Kim pose backstage at the 45th Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn. AP

Kim Campbell didn’t initially see that her husband, music legend Glen Campbell, had Alzheimer’s.

“When you first begin to see signs, you just chalk things up to the normal aging process,” she said.

But once she suspected that her husband, who she married in 1982, had a more substantial problem than just senior moments, getting a diagnosis was essential. Glen Campbell, now 79, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011 and performed the final show of his farewell tour on Nov. 30, 2012. The 2014 film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me chronicles Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and final tour.

“Getting the diagnosis helped me a lot,” Kim Campbell said in a recent telephone interview. “Before the diagnosis, I would get frustrated with him, and irritated and annoyed.”

Kim Campbell will be in Lexington March 15 to talk about her husband’s illness and her role as caregiver. The free public service event is sponsored by the Morning Pointe Foundation in partnership with the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. Morning Pointe is a Tennessee-based senior healthcare services company that has eight Kentucky locations, including three in Lexington. A ninth Morning Pointe location is under construction in Danville.

Alzheimer’s affects nearly half of all people over the age of 85, killing nearly 100,000 Americans a year, according to David Shenk’s book The Forgetting: Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic. The disease is named for German doctor Alois Alzheimer, who in 1906 discovered the distinctive tangles and plaques of the disease in the brain of a dead woman who had suffered dementia.

The disease, Kim Campbell said, “needs to be approached with a strength-based approach: What can they still do, not what can’t they still do. What can they do to give them comfort and joy?”

Glen Campbell is now in a memory care unit. Kim Campbell said she tried one last time to have her husband at home — “I missed him so much, and I thought, I’ve just got to try it one more time. (But) I couldn’t bathe him without a fight, or change his clothes. Glen’s a big man, and he was not easy.”

One of the cruelties of Alzheimer’s, Kim Campbell said, is that treatment, including medication, has to change as frequently as the disease progresses through its various stages.

“Your brain is continually dying,” she said.

Kim Campbell said she speaks out about the disease to help families, because Alzheimer’s “is definitely the most feared disease. You lose control of your life. There are identity issues and autonomy issues.”

She also advises caregivers to give themselves breaks and self-care.

“They talk about the ‘silver tsunami’ that’s coming,” Kim Campbell said of the tide of expected Alzheimer’s cases among Baby Boomers. “The stress for caregivers is enormous.”

Kim Campbell’s outlet was a ballet class: “You need breaks, you need to go to the doctor, you have to exercise. ... You’ve got to fight. What happens to a lot of people is that they become isolated.”

There are more practical things Kim Campbell wants to share, too, such as the importance of long-term health care insurance — which, after seeing what happened to her husband, she made sure to buy for herself.

“Estate planning is very important,” she said. “Advance health care directives are also very important.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

If you go

An Evening with Kim Campbell

When: 7 p.m. March 15

Where: Ashland Ave. Baptist Church, 483 West Reynolds Road

Cost: Free. RSVP to: Morningpointefoundation.com

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