Family of Glen Campbell shares Alzheimer's journey

Glen Campbell is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. (WSMV)

One of country music's top recording artists of all time is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Glen Campbell's family says he's living out his last days in a memory care facility.

While he's slowing down, his family isn't. They're on a mission to make sure what Campbell has taught us about music - and the disease that will likely take his life - carries on.

Campbell became a musician at 4 years old with a $5 department store guitar. By the time he was a teenager, his career as a performer was in full swing.

The "Rhinestone Cowboy" became a shining gem in all genres. He would go on to release more than 70 albums and take home just about every music award under the sun.

It's hard to fathom such a brilliant artist getting to a point where he can't even remember his own name.

Kim, Glen's wife of 35 years, recalls first realizing something wasn't quite right with her husband.

"Just him repeating himself a lot. He was shadowing me everywhere," she said. "He didn't want me out of his sight."

In June 2011, the Campbells went public with Glen's diagnosis, and they invited a film crew to tell their story.

The documentary, I'll Be Me, was released in 2014. The film follows Glen on his very last tour.

"I said, honey, what if something happens and you mess up on stage - you are repeating yourself or have odd behavior? We don't know what to expect with this disease. And he said, 'I'll just tell everybody I've got Alzheimer's,'" Kim said.

Fans showed up in droves, cheering Glen on, even when he forgot the words.

The tour had to end early. Unfortunately, there would be more disappointments down the road for the Campbells.

The family joined a memory care community, which is where Glen has been living since 2015.

Kim has made it her mission through her organization Care Living, which aims to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.

"It's extremely stressful and expensive and depressing, so I want to really encourage caregivers to take care of themselves," she said.

Humor also helps.

"With Glen, it was easy to do because he is just innately funny. He kept us laughing the whole time," she said.

Now, Glen can no longer talk or sing.

"He can't play guitar anymore, but occasionally, he does play a mean air guitar, which is really adorable," Kim said.

Kim says her husband's guitar skills were the last to go, but Vanderbilt Dr. Susan Bell says that is not surprising.

"Music and playing the music was a very familiar thing to him, so it was a way of him be able to orientate himself to a familiar surrounding, so something he was very comfortable with was good for him," Bell said.

While you won't see Glen on stage anymore, rest assured, you'll still hear him.

His music is so celebrated that it is almost impossible to spend an afternoon on Broadway and not hear one of his hits.

"Anybody who is anybody who wants to call themselves a guitar player in country music knows exactly who Glen Campbell is," said musician Tom Buller.

And they know his final recorded song, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You."

"It's hard to listen to without tearing up and know what he was actually singing about," Buller said.

The Campbells know the end is near, but like all of the greats who went before him - like Merle Haggard, George Jones, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash - their music is never forgotten.

Doctors say the medical community has made strides in slowing the disease but are are a long way from finding a cure. Early detection can help. Doctors say to make an appointment if your family member is experiencing any symptoms. It may be nothing, but if it is, you'll be glad you found out early.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.



Liz Lohuis joined the News4 team as a general assignment reporter in January 2016.

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