The family of legendary country music singer Glen Campbell was in Bradford on Thursday for an Alzheimer’s awareness program at the Pennhills Club and a showing at the Main Street Movie House of “I’ll Be Me,” a documentary that gives a up-close look at Campbell’s challenges with the disease.
The VIP party at the Pennhills Club included hors d’oeuvres and a meet-and-greet with Campbell’s wife, Kim Campbell, and the couple’s son and daughter, Shannon and Ashley Campbell, who later performed six songs in a live musical tribute to their father.
Lisa Johnson, chief executive officer of the Bradford Ecumenical Home, said she and Linda Howard, director of facility and staff development, saw the documentary during a conference last fall in Nashville and she “felt compelled” to bring the program back home.
The film, which is now being shown throughout the country in private screenings, focuses on Campbell’s final tour after learning he had Alzheimer’s. A song performed by Campbell in the film, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” was awarded a Grammy this year.
Kim Campbell said her husband wrote the song for his family as a way to say he wanted them to be okay.
“He knew we would suffer and we have,” she said. “As a caretaker, I deal with depression, which is not uncommon and which is why it’s so important to let people know that there is a network of support available to them.”
Johnson said it is often harder on the families, “who still have the memories,” rather than on the residents themselves.
“There are so many people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease,” she added. “Not only personally, but there are also caregivers and different health care professionals it relates to — it could be anybody’s story.
“Glen Campbell really puts a face on the disease,” Johnson said. “It is a documentary about the story of his life, but embraces the final tour that he and his family (conducted). That’s why we wanted to bring this to the community.”
Johnson said there have been many generous sponsors from the Bradford region as well as the Olean, N.Y., area who donated to the event to ensure the film could be shown in the region.
The nursing facility also has the special “Our House” unit that was opened in 2005 and houses and cares for 17 residents with Alzheimer’s. Johnson said of the more than 180 seniors on campus, more than half exhibit symptoms of dementia-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Johnson said the average age of symptom onset varies quite a bit but can start as early as age 50 to 60.
“There is no cure, so it’s really important for us to get the word out and hold events like this to help raise awareness,” Johnson said. “We’re so excited to have the Campbell family with us — they’re very gracious and obviously very supportive of the cause.”
Campbell’s family lives in Tennessee, where he is currently residing in a nursing home. At the time of the making of the film in 2011, he was at home with his family, but things have progressed since then, according to his wife.
Kim Campbell said her husband first started exhibiting signs of memory problems in 2009, when he was first taken to a neurologist and diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
It was then they were able to rule out vascular dementia with a cardiologist; and Glen Campbell remains physically healthy to this day, now age 79, except for aphasia, which results in poor control of facial muscles and difficulty with speech.
“He’ll still say things like, ‘we’re so blessed’ and ‘I love you,’” his wife said. “We were with him (Wednesday) for his birthday and that was a great day. We brought him his favorite food — hamburgers and ice cream — and he was telling jokes. It shocked me to see him communicate so well verbally again.”
Unfortunately, the famous musician is now losing his ability to play guitar, according to his wife, but he still enjoys personal performances by their daughter Ashley and son Shannon.
“I don’t notice much of an impact when I play a CD of his music for him, except maybe that it’s calming to him,” said Campbell. “But when it’s live music, he seems to connect to it, to really react. He still plays around though he’s losing the ability — but, what you do isn’t who you are.
“There are many kinds of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is just one of them,” she explained. “At the end of our show in Nashville, the audience was asked to stand if they or someone they know have been affected by dementia — I’d bet 90 percent of the audience was standing. There are so many families touched by it at some point or another. It’s no respecter of persons.”