Some of my sweetest experiences have come from working with memory impaired adults and being able to bring them joy in spite of their memory loss.
When I was about five years old, one of my great aunts occasionally babysat me. One of my grandmothers five sisters, she was a devout Christian and a remarkable woman. She’d get me ready for my nap and would prepare to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and I would interrupt her and break into my own rendition of Rhinestone Cowboy. It was my favorite song and I was happy to to sing it night and day. My aunt told that story for years and years to countless people and found it quite entertaining that I was so smitten with this popular cowboy song.
Fast forward about 36 years and here I am working in senior living. Some of my sweetest experiences have come from working with memory impaired adults and being able to bring them joy in spite of their memory loss. So naturally when I heard of Glen Campbell’s Alzhiemers diagnosis, it was with some sadness that I processed the news. After all, to this day when I hear that song, I am transported back to my childhood; a simpler time when life was happy and full of people who loved me. I have it on several CD’s I’ve made and it is a symbol of my childhood to me- an auditory reminder of my aunt, long gone from this life, and my family who surrounded me with their presence.
Glen has recently been admitted to a memory care community and his documentary entitled “I’ll Be Me” was just released. It chronicles his 2012 farewell tour, which he embarked upon after his diagnosis. I’ve yet to see the movie, but am very anxious to see it for a couple of reasons. First, because this is the man whose talent is responsible for one of my most cherished childhood memories. Secondly, because I, like many others in the world of senior care,and more particularly in the realm of Alzheimer’s and dementia, desperately want to see this terrible disease eradicated. That means talking about it, and not being afraid to highlight the stories of those affected. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to film a farewell tour of a person with Alzheimer’s. But I’m glad he did. I’m glad he did because there are currently 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in our country. And with the baby boomers continuing to age, it is only going to increase as time passes. (For a brief overview of the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, see the Alzheimer’s Associations 2014 facts and figures video here). So when people like Glen Campbell, a beloved cultural icon, share their story, it serves as a beacon of hope in the midst of so many coping with this dark and difficult disease for which there is yet a cure. It spurs us on to continue to elevate public consciousness, fundraise, and continue research in hopes of eventually finding a cure. I’ll always love Rhinestone Cowboy and will readily confess that each time I hear it I’ll continue to belt it out at the top of my lungs. But now there is another reason why I’ll continue to love that song; because it reminds me of the enormous responsibility we have to press on when it comes to supporting those who suffer with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. It will now serve as an anthem to all who hear that we need continue, unflagging in diligence, in this fight against a disease that robs so many of those we love of their precious memories and quality of life. If you haven’t heard it in a while, click this link and sing-along. And then let it be your battle cry against this terrible disease.
Leslie thank you for this post, so meaningful! I agree, shining a light on the personal stories of those struggling, and loosing the battle, with Alzheimer’s is essential in raising awareness and compassion. Though I’d heard about Glen Campbell’s diagnosis, I was not aware he consented to document through film. I will be most eager to see his documentary.
Thank you Kelly- I’m glad you enjoyed it!
In my experience as a living assistant, my clients with declining memory/ destructive diseases have taught me to slow down and look at the details of my own life the important ones. Even with dementia, they show me so many ways to appreciate life!
Leslie, that is a beautiful story not only of your life but also of how we should be approaching those with Alzheimers; allowing them to break out in song, discussion, crafts, et al in a way that makes them happy as you did with Rhinestone Cowboy. Your experience was a reminder of many occasions in caring for my father during his process of Alzheimers when discussion, direction or even my identity would change and it made him happy as I rolled along without a reality check. In the care of family members, friends and our residents with Alzheimers we must allow them to sing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ when we are singing ‘Jesus Loves You’ then we both benefit with a smile and pleasant memory. Thanks for your wonderful story.
Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you found the post helpful and that it reminded you how important being “in the moment” is with people suffering from Alzhiemers. Thank you for sharing.