Glen Campbell

Profiles of Aphasia: Glen Campbell

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



  • Donna Peterson
    August 23, 2017 at 1:43 am

    I thank you for being so honest. My husband has Wernicke’s although it is a different type of aphasia, I could really relate to nonsense words, phrases and the spontaneous utterances like “I love you.” Your sharing means a lot. Sometimes a caregiver feels completely alone. It is a scary, terrible feeling. You made me feel no so alone. Thank you. Also thanks to your father for the beautiful songs that I grew up with

  • Charlotte
    August 29, 2017 at 9:01 am

    My Mom has dementia related primary progressive aphasia. She was diagnosed in 2012. The last 12 months we have seen a significant decline in language but most especially in the thought process and understanding. It has been so very heartbreaking to not be able to communicate with her. In the last 3 months she has declined rapidly. Forgetting to turn the washing machine on but then putting the clothes in the dryer unwashed, leaving out key ingredients in a recipe, hiding her medication , taking too much medication. She has been able to maintain her independence at home up until now. I’m afraid We are facing some difficult decisions in the very near future.
    I would love to hear more of Glen Campbell’s story.

  • KC
    August 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I’m new to this, maybe six months. Had stroke 03Feb2015. Thought I made it through stroke easily after I relearned to walk but it seems to be developing and do not know where it is going. I have one friend my age (75 male) whom fell out of bed not long ago and has is learning what’s happening like me. Have another friend with stroke in 2014, had problems like I now have but says he his getting better.
    We put things in our memory and then are not there when I need them. The memories come and go after that. Our talking runs out after too many tangents.
    I am a Marketing/Consumer Researcher and more recently (25 years) an Independent Scientist of Health and Healing. I have been working on a new theory of Modern Medicine. Hoping Theory will help us. More to follow. Must be restricted on site. — KC

  • Gill
    August 29, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Please, more about people coping with dementia related primary progressive aphasia. My husband has this and I would welcome suggestions of how he might be able to communicate more easily with people other than myself. The problem is that people are less inclined to communicate with him because it is hard work, but he notices this and it breaks my heart when he tells me that people don’t talk to him. Apart from the intital ‘hallo,how are you, good to see you’ , they then move off to talk to someone else. They are not willing to make more of an effort when they could talk about mutually remembered things. He wouldn’t have to do more than laugh or nod to show that he knows what they are talking about. He would be quite happy letting others do the talking…about anything…as long as they were talking to him.

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