I was recently asked to participate in a sponsored campaign to support the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative. This international collaboration of various groups advocates for a new era of Alzheimer’s prevention research. Recently the Alzheimer’s Association reported in its annual Facts & Figures that 1 in 3 seniors will die from Alzheimer’s disease. It is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only disease on the Top 10 list that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured. As the caregiving blogger for the Alzheimer’s Association and a recent honoree by SharecareNow as one of the Top 10 Alzheimer’s influencers, I am proud to support this campaign. Join me today to sign the FREE registry and help us reach 10,000 names in an effort to end Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetime.
With a Song In Their Hearts
More than 1,000 luminaries poured into the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel which was transformed for the evening into the famous Sardi’s, the 90-year-old New York Broadway theater district’s landmark restaurant, to raise their voices and funds for Alzheimer’s research and programs.
I was on the purple carpet with my video crew as the cavalcade of stars entered the event and we were able to capture the following interviews with some of our favorite celebrities (View the interviews here on YouTube).
More than 15 million Americans are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and one of the most high-profile dementia caregivers over the last year is Kim Campbell, wife of music legend Glen Campbell. It was the highlight of my evening to talk with Kim and her daughter Ashley about touring for Glen’s final farewell tour to promote his album, Ghosts on the Canvas. Both Kim and her daughter are beautiful blondes who have a glow that comes from within – their positive spirit, strong family bond and hopeful future outlook were obvious while we talked about a diagnosis which can often be devastating for families. They remind all of us what it takes to keep going every day and find the blessings that can come with caregiving.
Kim Campbell, who has been married to her husband for 31 years, recalls the day he was diagnosed, “Glen just released his final studio album and we wanted to go out and promote it when we heard he had Alzheimer’s. It was hard for him but our kids are his band and we all surrounded him the best we could and he got out there and did it and we had a great time.”
As we talked about how difficult it can be for caregivers of those with dementia to cope emotionally and find time so they don’t neglect themselves Kim advised, “You need to have a support group, you need to have friends and family around you, you need to take care of yourself, you need to get a break from it because it is grueling to the caregiver 24/7.” She continued, “I’ve got this fabulous daughter and two sons that live nearby – it takes a lot of family and friends to juggle so you can have a little freedom to take care of yourself.”
When I asked Kim how she finds her “Me Time,” the former Radio City Music Hall Rockette responds with a sentiment from the Broadway hit, A Chorus Line, which is appropriate for the evening’s theme, “I go to ballet – everything is beautiful at the ballet.”
Ashley Campbell, who is in her early 20s and gets her gorgeous looks from mom and her musical talents from dad, told me she has been touring with her dad since 2009. She plays guitar, banjo and keyboards and it is the highlight of the farewell tour concert to watch Ashley and Glen Campbell play dueling banjo/guitar.
“It’s been quite a ride,” said Ashley. “To spend time with him is such a gift, especially when you know what’s happening, most people don’t know what’s happening and they take it for granted that their parents are there and with them – I’m just trying to spend every minute with my dad.”
At such a young age, Ashley is also acutely aware of the caregiving challenges and how she can help support her mom as part of the caregiving team for Glen. “I’ve been living at home the last couple of years since my senior year of college to help out my mom because it’s not a one-person job.” Recently testifying before Congress for more funds for Alzheimer’s research, she also believes caregivers of those with dementia shouldn’t stay in the shadows, “Keep your friends around you and never be ashamed of what’s happening. You should never go through it alone.”
James Keach, who produced the award-winning movie Walk the Line with Joaquin Phoenix playing Johnny Cash and Oscar®-winner Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, spent the last year with the Campbells making a film about Glen’s farewell tour and his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He told me, “The experience was life changing. I actually resisted doing a film about Alzheimer’s because I thought this is going to be really depressing but it’s actually turned my whole life around. Glen and his family are so in the moment, so supportive of one another and have really dedicated their life to changing the face of Alzheimer’s in America. I think Glen’s legacy won’t just be music, it will be what he’s done with this journey with Alzheimer’s.”
Ron Howard was on hand to present the Abe Burrows Entertainment Award to his producing partner, Brian Grazer. After their experience directing/producing the Oscar®-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, both he and Brian became invested in the issues facing those with mental health problems and neurological disorders. “We both share an interest in the mind and how it works – when things are going well and what can be done when something is going wrong.”
As we talked about mental and emotional health for caregivers, Ron shared, “Every family is touched by it, let’s face it and when it strikes a family, no matter how learned the family might be, it resonates in very emotional ways. It’s something to be open about and very ambitious in trying to improve. What we need is knowledge; it can’t be left to families to solve their own problems, particularly when it comes to psychological and neurological issues which are so complicated.”
Jason Alexander is best known as George Costanza from the TV hit, Seinfeld, but his first love is on the Broadway stage, especially musical theater. “We’re now at that age when we can’t remember where our car keys are and we’re worried, is this the beginning of Alzheimer’s?” said Jason. “We say it jokingly but this is one of those diseases that scares everybody so it would be nice to get rid of it.”
We talked about the power of music to help those with dementia. Jason has seen an older colleague – one of TV’s pioneers struggling with dementia – who knows every word of the songs he used to sing and perks right up when Jason is singing. “It’s a whole spark of life that comes together,” marvels Jason. “Music is an enormously wonderful tool to have in the arsenal to help people going through this.”
Emmy Rossum, stylish, talented young star of TV’s Shameless and a Broadway musical veteran revealed, “This year a friend of mine who is in her early 40s was diagnosed with early on-set and she had to leave her job. It’s been really hard and she’s here tonight so I’m excited to donate any talents I have to making an amazing evening for everyone here and to raise some money for the charity.”
The main cast of TV’s hit comedy, The Big Bang Theory, has made time to perform at A Night At Sardi’s for the last five years. This year they brought the house down with their version of Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Emmy-winning star of the show, Jim Parsons said about Alzheimer’s disease, “There is no cure yet and it’s very important to keep attention on it until there is one.”
A sentiment the night’s crowd is dedicated to – seeing an end to Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetime.
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club and author of A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self-care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and recognized by Sharecare and Dr. Oz as one of the Top 10 Alzheimer’s influencers online.