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.