On Wednesday, May 16, the Alzheimer’s Association hosted “An Evening with Glen Campbell,” an event to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease among members of Congress. Held at the Library of Congress, the evening honored country music legend Campbell, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, and his family.
Actress and philanthropist Jane Seymour welcomed a crowd including members of Congress, staff and their families. Seymour’s husband, James Keach, and his filmmaking partner, Trevor Albert, are making a documentary on Campbell and his family, following their battle with Alzheimer’s disease as Campbell conducts his farewell tour.
The attendees watched a brief film highlighting the state of Alzheimer’s today, revealing statistics from the recently released Alzheimer’s Association 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. The film focuses on the cost of Alzheimer’s to the country, which will total a shocking $200 billion in 2012.
Harry Johns, president and CEO, Alzheimer’s Association, started the program by congratulating the assembled crowd on the release of the National Alzheimer’s Plan the day before.
“The release of the National Alzheimer’s Plan is a huge historic moment for our cause. I want thank of all the members of Congress for their support of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act,” Johns said. “Your leadership has made it possible to have a plan that creates a platform to address Alzheimer’s in America, and we truly appreciate that.”
Johns also talked about the challenge ahead, applauding Campbell and his family for their bravery as they publically face this disease.
“There are 5.4 million people today that have this disease, and because of baby boomers like me, that number is going to grow to 16 million in the next 38 years,” Johns said. “What I want to commend Glen and his family for is announcing his diagnosis and staying in the public eye. It sets a precedent and helps to advance conversation about the cause.”
Congressmen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), longtime co-chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, also spoke to the attendees, addressing recent successes in the fight against the disease and looking to the future.
“No coach goes into a big game without a strategy, and now we have a fully integrated plan with public and private stakeholders,” Smith said. “We have worked on this for a long time.”
“These families at home, they are heroes. But heroes need help,” Markey added. “You’ve heard the numbers. We have to give them hope.”
Dr. Ron Petersen, director of the Mayo Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and a member of the National Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Disease, gave an update on scientific progress in the field and the ways in which the National Alzheimer’s Plan will help to advance that research.
“Now we have a blueprint, a roadmap, for how we are actually going to get to a cure for this disease,” said Petersen. “The charge is back to us, the charge is back to Congress. I think we’ve done part of the work, but in another sense the work has just begun.”
After Petersen’s remarks, Campbell’s daughter Ashley took to the stage to introduce a sneak preview of the documentary focusing on her father’s farewell tour. She and her brothers, Shannon and Cal, are members of Campbell’s band and travel with him; Campbell’s wife, Kim, is his primary caregiver.
“We decided to go on a farewell tour with him to keep his struggle public,” she said. “We didn’t want people to think they were going through this alone. This isn’t a disease that just affects the person living with it — it affects their entire family.”
After a sneak preview of the documentary, Campbell took to the stage and received a standing ovation. Moving around with the microphone in hand, he was at ease, joking with the crowd and teasing his children. He drew repeated thunderous applause as he displayed his skill with the guitar, performing favorites such as “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”
Ashley and her family feel that performing is helping Campbell to face his disease and its symptoms.
“We’ve seen music as a form of therapy on this tour. He seems to be happier, to do better with his memory,” she said. “Happiness is the non-medical medicine.”
Throughout the evening, Campbell reinforced this observation, frequently telling the crowd, “I’m a happy, happy man. Do you want to hear some more?”