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Glen Campbell talks Alzheimer's: Some days are better than others

August 24, 2011 |  1:03 pm

Glen Campbell and his wife Kim
During The Times' interview with Glen Campbell about his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” which comes out Aug. 30, he discussed the Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis he got earlier this year and the decision that he and his wife, Kim, made to go public in June.

“I’m fine,” the 75-year-old singer and guitarist said during our chat in the kitchen of his home in Malibu. “It’s just sometimes days are better than other ones. But that’s going on your whole life.  Well, not your whole life.” Then he pulled out a quip: “One guys asks another, ‘You lived around here your whole life?’ The other guy says, ‘Not yet!’ ”

The fact that entertaining has been such an integral part of Campbell’s life for so many decades is part of what prompted the “Rhinestone Cowboy” singer, with the backing of his family and his doctor, to choose to continue public performances rather than pull back as a result of his medical condition.

“It hasn't affected me in any way. I haven’t felt anything,” Campbell said. “In fact, I don’t even know what it is. Who came up with that?” he said with a laugh.

“Your doctor,” Kim answered.

“Well, he’s probably wrong,” Campbell replied.

The exchange was lighthearted, but Campbell did seem to struggle with that part of the discussion about Alzheimer’s, one of several conditions that fall under the broad umbrella of dementia.

“There is a cognitive deficit,” Campbell’s doctor, Cedars-Sinai neurologist Hart Cohen, said in a separate interview. “You have to wonder whether a part of that may include some denial, some disinclination to admit it to himself.

“But I must admit,” Cohen added, “that he’s been fairly receptive” to the diagnosis. “He knows there is a problem, and he wants to help himself.

“One thing I’d say that stands out about him is that because he’s an entertainer, when he comes to my office, he’s really on,” Cohen said. “He’s so charming, and so engaging, there are stretches of conversation with him that if one wasn’t aware of his condition, one could escape the notion that he has this -- that he has dementia, that he has a cognitive problem. But if one starts to ask the right questions, it becomes clear.

“It’s to his benefit and his good fortune,” Cohen said, “that his musical skills have been relatively preserved as he’s undergone this global decline in [brain] function.... There’s a disconnect between language production related to conversational speech and the use of language when language is recruited for purposes of music. It’s a way to reach those recesses of the brain that otherwise are dormant, a way to stimulate one’s cognitive function.

“The fact that he has developed that skill so well and is still able to use it,” Cohen added, “will probably help him generally with his cognitive function. He'll probably be able to do better than most.”

The full story on Campbell will appear this weekend in The Times.

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-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Glen Campbell and his wife, Kim, at their home in Malibu. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

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