Glen Campbell was the Rhinestone Cowboy. When he died on August 8th, a few weeks ago, he left behind a lifetime of songs. He often used music as he lost his ability to communicate, experiencing aphasia along with Alzheimer’s disease.

We’ve been profiling well-known people with aphasia, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gabby Giffords.

Loss of Language During Alzheimer’s

Glen Campbell developed aphasia during the later stages of Alzheimer’s. Northwestern University researchers state that primary progressive aphasia is caused by Alzheimer’s 30 – 40% of the time, though it’s unknown if Campbell’s aphasia was part of or separate from the Alzheimer’s. This article from Northwestern is a great resource for more information on Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s dementia, and primary progressive aphasia.

His wife, Kim, described his situation before his death:

He has aphasia, so he’s lost most of his language. He doesn’t understand much. Occasionally, he can say a short sentence — an automatic response like “I love you” or “How are you doing?” The words don’t register meaning in his head.

“But he still has his essence,” Kim says.

There are times when he still tries to tell jokes. It’s often gibberish, but it still makes Kim laugh. Occasionally, he will break into an air guitar — though he doesn’t play a real one anymore. Other times, he tries to sing.

Kim has done a lot of work reaching out to and supporting other caregivers like herself, giving advice about combating depression and making decisions that are best for each individual family.

A Daughter’s Eulogy

The family speaks openly about Alzheimer’s and aphasia, trying to banish any stigma around the disease and condition. His daughter, Ashley wrote a moving note after her father’s death, explaining how music was the one way to reach him as he lost the ability to communicate.

Many of you know my father, Glen Campbell, as the guitar player, singer, and international icon that he was. Some of you may know him as the wonderful man and friend he was to so many people. I had the privilege of knowing Glen Campbell as a father. I also had the honor and privilege of caring for my dad through his entire journey through Alzheimer’s disease. Music was the thing that could bring him back to us when the fog would pull him just a little further away.

She thanks fans for remembering her father with her, telling a story about a song she wrote for her father that is continuing to bring her comfort after his death.

Kim said a few months ago,

He has complete aphasia; he doesn’t understand language and he can’t communicate verbally. But he understands the universal language of love and smiles and kisses and hugs.

By sharing his story and his struggles with Alzheimer’s and aphasia, the family is taking that love forward through awareness and understanding.

Image: Lawren via Flickr via Creative Commons license