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Duluthians watch Glen Campbell's journey with Alzheimer's

Ashley Campbell and her father, Glen Campbell, entertain audiences as a musical dueling duo. The documentary film follows Campbell on his "Goodbye Tour" across America. (Photo by PCH Films)1 / 3
While standing in the lobby of Duluth's Zinema theater, Joanne Gerber signs a petition started by Glen Campbell's family. The petition asks for more funding for research and a cure for Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 3
Just before the start of a special showing of "I'll Be Me," Brenda Beard Conley of the Alzheimer's Association speaks to an audience of over 90 at the Zinema theater. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

Glen Campbell is is best known for a series of hit songs in the 1960s and '70s such as "Gentle on my Mind," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Galveston." In 2012 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

And on Feb. 19 in Duluth, he was a hit among moviegoers who packed the Zinema for two showings of his movie "I'll Be Me." The documentary chronicles Campbell's struggles with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

"The movie touched me deeply and brought back some of the struggles my mom and I faced when she had the disease," said Joanne Gerber. "What amazed me the most about the movie was Glen Campbell's continued ability to play his guitar. He may have needed a teleprompter for the lyrics, but his musical chops were still there."

Gerber works for University of Minnesota Duluth's Center for Continuing Education, which co-hosted the film.

The movie event was a private showing by invitation only and served as a gift or a perk to volunteers with the Alzheimer's Association and other community leaders. Many of the moviegoers were people whose lives had been touched by Alzheimer's.

The Center for Continuing Education offers classes for the caring professions as well as family caregivers with loved ones who have dementia. (See below.)

But for Gerber, watching the movie was more than just part of her job. "I will end up crying," she told the Budgeteer before the show. "For me this is personal. I had a mother die in 2011 due to Alzheimer's."

Glen Campbell's wife, Kim Woolen, and children noticed that something was wrong for a while. At first it seemed like he was just forgetful. Then the forgetfulness got a little too weird. Like asking where the garage was. Or wondering where the bathroom was in his own house. At first they were told he had mild cognitive impairment, but in 2011 they visited the Mayo Clinic and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a moment captured in the film.

But when Campbell got on a stage, played the guitar and sang, he tapped into something in his brain that caused him to be his old self. His wife and some of his children encouraged him to give one more tour, called the "Goodbye Tour." The tour included 151 locations and he recorded his 61st album, "Ghost on the Canvas." Much of the documentary film takes place during the tour.

Suzanne and Brian Rauvola assisted in the lobby of the Zeitgeist as ticket-takers. Both were dressed in purple, the Alzheimer's color for support. Suzanne said she recalls watching Campbell's variety show on TV with her grandparents.

"My grandparents liked his music and he really broke ground for other country singers," she said.

And what was she anticipating her reaction to the movie would be?

"She's gonna cry," said her husband, Brian.

Brian's father is in a memory care unit in Hermantown. Suzanne had a great-aunt who died from early onset of Alzheimer's before age 60.

In the film, Glen and his wife Kim visit the Mayo Clinic. Campbell talks like Donald Duck as they walk through the halls.

When the specialist interviews him and asks him if he is having trouble with his memory and if he knows what year it is or who the president is, or who the first president was, Campbell cannot answer. The doctor asks if he knows what type of facility he is in or why he is there. Campbell is affable and guesses he's undergoing some type of evaluation with all the questions they're throwing at him.

For the most part Campbell is cheerful, but the film gives a glimpse of the darker sides of Alzheimer's. Campbell shouts in fury as he searches the house, convinced that his golfing companion has stolen his clubs. He picks at his teeth with knives and his wife's diamond earring while his family plead for him to visit a dentist.

In one scene Kim tells the doctor that Glen used the trash can instead of the toilet. Campbell says, "Oh I was drunk," but his drinking days are over.

While many may feel they already know Campbell through his songs, awards, divorces and headline-making antics with drug and alcohol, this movie gives an intimate look at the man without feeling like a reality show.

"I've been trying to get rid of it for the past 40 years," he said of his memory.

Some speculate that part of the reason for drinking is to forget the pain of the divorces and how it affected the children.

Duluthian Char Davern and her husband, Timothy, were at the Zinema's matinee showing.

"Oh yeah, I liked his music," Char told the Budgeteer a couple days before the film was to be shown at the Zinema. She follows Campbell's daughter, Ashley, on Facebook. Char took special interest when Ashley testified about Alzheimer's disease before the Senate in April 2013.

The Senate visit is chronicled in the documentary. "I think a person's life is comprised of memories and that's exactly what Alzheimer's disease takes away from you," Ashley testifies. Her father, not looking like a star, forlornly sits beside her as she urges Congress to fund the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease. Ashley says through tears, "Now when I play banjo with my dad, it's getting harder for him to follow along and it's getting harder for him to recall my name."

And just last week, Feb. 18, Ashley told Access Hollywood, "He recognizes me as someone he loves. He doesn't really know who I am." Campbell entered a long-term care facility in April of 2014. "He's probably entering into stage 7," the final stage of the disease, she said.

And did Suzanne Ruvola cry?

Yes she did.

"Glen Campbell was somebody I grew up with," Suzanne said. "To see his family share their story is so lovely."

UMD Continuing Education Associate Joanne Gerber cried, too. "Films like 'I'll Be Me' and "Still Alice" humanize a disease that remains mysterious to a lot of people," she told the Budgeteer. "The movie touched me deeply, and brought back some of the struggles my mom and I faced when she had the disease."

"Most of us know (or knew) someone with the disease," Gerber continued. "People who care for those with Alzheimer's need to know they are not alone, and that help is available."

Understanding dementia: a class for caregivers

A Validation workshop for caregivers of people with dementia will be held in April, offered by the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Continuing Education.

The Validation method helps caregivers understand and communicate with their loved ones. Many people, including professionals, feel that caregivers should handle abnormal behavior by stopping it, ignoring it or correcting it.

The aim of the Validation method is to understand and empathize with the needs of the person rather than correcting the logic of the person suffering from dementia.

WHAT: Entering the World of Dementia: A Workshop for Caregivers

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 22

WHERE: UMD Kathryn A. Martin Library Rotunda, fourth floor

WHO: Instructor: Dianne Knettel, RN, Director of Validation, Volunteers of America

COST: $135, preregistration required

CONTACT: Check the website, email cehelp@d.umn.edu or call (218) 726-8113.

10 warning signs of Alzheimer's

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over or depending on family members for things they used to handle on their own.

Typical age-related change: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Having trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.

Typical age-related change: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

Typical age-related change: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion with time or place. Trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

Typical age-related change: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

Typical age-related change: Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. Stopping in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").

Typical age-related change: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Losing things and being unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.

Typical age-related change: Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

8. Decreased or poor judgment. They may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

Typical age-related change: Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.

Typical age-related change? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in mood and personality. Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious, easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places out of comfort zone.

Typical age-related change: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Source: www.alz.org

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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