Ashley Campbell on Her Dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis—and the love of his family—spurred Glen Campbell on a triumphant farewell tour. Daughter and singer Ashley shares touching memories and caregiving tips.

Ellen Byron
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Photograph by Michael Gomez

When Glen Campbell, 77, accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys last year, the superstar brought the audience to its feet with a rousing rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” It was something that his daughter, Ashley, playing banjo on stage with her dad’s band, will never forget. But the moment was also bittersweet: Glen suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and the performance was a poignant finale to his 50-year career.

Ashley, the youngest of Glen’s three children with his fourth wife, Kimberly, first noticed a change in her father when she was in high school. “I was watching a movie with friends, and he came in and asked what we were watching,” the 26-year-old recalls. “A couple of minutes later, he came back in and asked again.”

After graduating from Pepperdine University, Ashley was thrilled when Glen invited her to join his band for a three-week tour. Sadly, it would become his grand finale, as he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after it began.

Ashley’s older brothers, Shannon and Cal, joined the band, making Glen’s farewell tour a family affair. The singer, who topped both country and pop charts, played his final show last November.

These days, Ashley and her brother Shannon, who landed a music contract for their country-folk band Victoria Ghost, are working in Nashville. And whenever she can, the young singer-songwriter goes home to help out. “Every time I see my dad, he says, ‘Hey, we should go back on the road,’ ” Ashley shares, as she wistfully adds, “I wish we could.”

Here, Ashley shares caregiving tips and tells how her family weathers the storm with grace.

Make peace with role reversal. Parenting your own parent has its unique rules, notes Ashley. “It’s basically like taking care of a child that you can’t reprimand,” she notes. “You have to show them the same respect that you did before they had Alzheimer’s, without letting on that you’re babying them.”

Enjoy the here and now. “You have to enjoy the sunny weather while you can and appreciate who the person is, even with Alzheimer’s. So make plans that will let you have a good time with them.”

Tag-team caregiving. “We all pitch in and make sure my mom has time off and personal time with friends so she can recharge her batteries and lead an active, normal life.” 

Check out our Alzheimer's and Dementia Resources.

September 2013