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Profiles in Dementia: Glen Campbell (1936 – 2017)

Glen Campbell 1967 (Alzheimer's Disease)Glen Campbell was one of the first country artists to make the successful crossover into Top 40, blazing the trail in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for a few other country artists (Alison Krauss, the Dixie Chicks, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson, to name a few) who would follow him decades later to also be successful crossover artists.

My parents liked his music and that is how I became aware of Glen Campbell. Continue reading

Remembering My Beloved Mama: Muriel June Foster Ross

mama mother's day

I originally wrote this as a “Profiles in Dementia” tribute to my mama, but it’s appropriate as a remembrance of her birthday too.

Today would have been Mama’s 88th birthday. I miss her – and my daddy – terribly, but I’m glad her suffering – and his – is over.

I hold you both close in my heart and my love, and most importantly in my memories of thankfulness and gratitude for the blessing of both of you in my life.

Until we meet again.

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Profiles in Dementia: Helen French Garrison (1930 – 2017)


Helen Garrison as a young womanOne of my best and closest friends, who is a sister to me and I to her, lost her mom, Helen French Garrison, to dementia on Sunday, January, 29, 2017.

While my friend shares many traits and characteristics with her dad, she shares just as many with her mom, including, to name a few, her mom’s Southern charm, her grace, her kindness, and her generosity.

Helen Garrison was a beautiful lady inside and out. I’m thankful that both Mama and I had the honor of calling her both family and friend.

In tribute to Helen, and with the family’s permission, this profile in dementia is written by my friend about her mom and her dad, who faithfully and lovingly kept his in-sickness-and-in-health promise as Helen’s primary caregiver during her long journey through dementia, and their lives together as husband and wife.

Lloyd Helen Garrison wedding day“I’ve always been so thankful for the blessing of my devoted, loving, godly parents. And this week I’m thankful to have been with them for the final days of my mother’s life. In the past few days my dad has been recalling and sharing so many stories and memories of their life together. They were a very special couple who worked together to keep their promise of for better or worse, til death. Together they brought up two children and are the grandparents of six and great grandparents of nine. Now my dad is trying to figure out where to go from here. After 64 ½ years of marriage, he has to change his mindset from “we” to “I” – quite a challenge for him at age 87.

My mother was born February 20, 1930 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. At the age of twelve, she moved with her parents and sister Blondie to Sheffield, Alabama where she finished her schooling. In 1952 she graduated with every honor from Florence State Teachers College, now the University of North Alabama, with a teaching degree.

Three months later she married Lloyd Garrison, and they moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming where he was stationed at the Air Force Base. When he was discharged, they returned home to Alabama where my brother and I grew up.

Mother taught elementary school for decades and was much loved by her students and their parents. After retiring from teaching, she ran the office for the very busy Garrison Electric Company which my dad started. She was energetic and full of life, love, and joy which she radiated to her family, students and friends. Also, she was an amazing hostess and cook, and she thrived on having groups of friends and family over for meals and fun. She hosted many family Thanksgiving, Mother’s and Father’s Day and anniversary events! For our pre-wedding dinner for family and wedding party members, she killed, skinned, and cooked a dozen chickens in addition to all the side dishes and dessert!

Interestingly, my mother’s many strengths and talents were my dad’s growth or challenge areas, and conversely, my dad’s many outstanding talents were my mother’s growth areas. They relied on each other, and together they made the complete package!

Lloyd and Helen Garrison in their golden yearsOf course this is a bittersweet time for our family — the bitterness of the loss and void, and the sweetness that finally Mother is at peace, no longer struggling and suffering. We are focusing on the many cherished memories of life with such an outstanding loving and beautiful lady. And we rely on our faith in the promises of God that we will see her again.

Helen French Garrison died on January 29, 2017.”

Profiles in Dementia: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

Robin Williams in "Good Morning, Vietnam"Robin Williams was a man of great intellectual depth and many diverse talents. He burst on the scene as the quirky, but engaging Mork on the TV series Mork and Mindy in the late 1970’s. It was clear even then that his talent was bigger than the small screen could contain, and he quickly made the transition to the big screen in films that brought him great acclaim (Dead Poet’s SocietyAwakeningsGood Morning, Vietnam, and What Dreams May Come, to name a few) as a serious actor, writer, and producer. 

Williams, a graduate of Julliard, began his career as a stand-up comedian. His style was unique: rapid-fire, insightful, and always extremely funny with the undercoating of serious truths lying just beneath the humor.

Early in Williams’ career, he battled the same demons of drug and alcohol abuse that seem to disproportionately haunt the most talented among us mere mortals. He successfully overcame both, but I am inclined to believe that the years of substance abuse were a contributing factor to his development of Lewy Body dementia in the couple of years of his life.

Williams’ widow, Sharon Schneider Williams, recently wrote an essay (published in the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology) describing her husband’s last year as Lewy Body dementia consumed his brain.

Robin Williams in his last year of lifeIt is hard at times to read (I saw many things there that I saw in my own mom’s Lewy Body dementia), but it captures the essence of Lewy Body dementia in real time in a way I have not seen described before.

Robin Williams, unable to continue to humanly fight the unseen, but increasingly-threatening terrorist that had permanently taken his brain hostage, took his own life on August 11, 2014.

Profiles in Dementia: Charmian Carr (1942 – 2016)

Charmian Carr as Liesl in 1965's "Sound of Music"Charmian Carr was born in 1942 to parents who were performing artists (her mother was a vaudeville actress and her father was an orchestra leader) and she followed in their footsteps in her early life, landing the role of Liesl Von Trapp at 21 in Sound of Music in 1965.

Although Carr had a lauded role in the classic film and the promise of a good career as an actress – her only other film was with Anthony Perkins in 1966’s musical Evening Primrose – Carr made the choice to pursue a more private life.

She married, raised two daughters, and ran her own design business.

However, Carr happily embraced her role in the Sound of Music throughout her life, writing two books – Being Liesl and Letters Charmian Carrto Liesl – about the lasting effect of her seminal character on her own life and participating in singalong performances of the Sound of Music soundtrack at the Hollywood Bowl.

Before a 2005 performance at the Hollywood Bowl, Carr
commented: “I tell people that they should consider singalong Sound of Music like going to a therapist. It’s just a kind of therapy. They can move around. They can dance and talk back to the screen. They can skip their appointment with the shrink that week.”

Carr died on September 19, 2016 at the age of 73 from an undisclosed rare form of dementia.

 

Profiles in Dementia: Gene Wilder (1933 -2016)

Gene Wilder as Willy WonkaGene Wilder was a comedic actor best known for his performances in movies such Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryBlazing SaddlesStir CrazyYoung Frankenstein, and The Producers.

Wilder got his start in acting in 1961 in off-Broadway productions, but his acting career began to take off in 1967 when he landed a role in Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Wilder’s career peaked in the 1970’s, as he became a household name after masterfully capturing the essence of the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Wilder’s performance in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory caught the attention of Mel Brooks, a filmmaker well-known for making movies that are farces or comedic parodies (perhaps because I’m too much on the serious side of things, I have never really gotten Brooks’ movies and don’t find them appealing, but they are very popular), and Wilder was featured in starring roles in the string of hit movies that Brooks made in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s.

Wilder’s last movie role was in 1999, after which the actor began a more private life, with rare cameos in television shows and interviews (the last of which was in 2008 with Alec Baldwin in a Turner Classic Movie biography entitled Role Model).

According to statement from Wilder’s nephew, Wilder had been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013, but had been showing increasingly more obvious behaviors and symptoms of the neurological disease for several years before that.

There have been many critics of Wilder’s desire to keep his diagnosis private because the critics believe that celebrities with a dementia diagnosis will bring more awareness about dementia and will spur more public and political action.

I strongly disagree with the critics and I support Wilder’s desire to keep his diagnosis private.

There is plenty of information – this blog and the books I’ve written with in-depth and practical information about dementia (what it looks like, how to travel through the journey day-to-day with our loved ones, and invaluable information on resources to best facilitate that journey), in addition to other blogs and books that focus on certain aspects of dementia or are devoted to a certain angle of dementia awareness – available to raise awareness.

I also believe that each person, and their families, should have the discretion to choose whether to make a dementia diagnosis and journey public or private.

In my mom’s case, while she was alive, I kept her diagnosis confined to a small group of people whom she and I were close to and who would want to know. I don’t really know what Mama would have chosen (it’s not a question you can really ask), but I knew I wanted to protect her and to maintain her dignity, so I made that choice with no regrets.

Gene Wilder Alzheimer's Disease

It was only after Mama’s death that I chose to make her dementia public, but only because I knew that our journey could help other people and that Mama would have supported that. I haven’t ever given all the details of our journey and I never will (some things just need to stay private).

Gene Wilder died at the age of 83 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease on August 29, 2016.

 

Profiles in Dementia: Coach Pat Summitt (1952 – 2016)

Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee (Knoxville) Women's Basketball CoachCoach Pat Summitt, who coached the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) women’s basketball team for 38 years until her retirement in 2012 after she announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, was known for her fair, but ethical, disciplined, and meticulous coaching that emphasize hard work saw Coach Summitt experience unparalleled success on and off the court, but more importantly, saw the efforts of her leadership and coaching develop in her basketball players the same kind of work ethic, fairness, ethics, discipline, and meticulousness.

In stark contrast to many players in men’s college basketball players who typically don’t graduate from college, but instead go to the NBA in their sophomore or junior years, Coach Summitt held a 100 percent graduation rate for all of her players who completed their eligibility at the University of Tennessee.

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