In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 15, 2017

For Glen Campbell and Other Alzheimer’s Patients, Music Can Be Good Medicine

By In the Loop

When legendary musician Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he decided to keep performing. And that likely helped both Campbell and his family weather the disease, says Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D.When legendary musician Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he decided to keep performing. And that likely helped Campbell and his family weather the disease. 

When Glen Campbell passed away last week, obituaries highlighted his dual legacy as a prolific, gifted musician and a public face of Alzheimer's disease. The 2014 documentary, "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me," offered an intimate view of how those two personas intertwined.

The film's "impact on Alzheimer's awareness was tremendous," Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., tells Dr. Petersen, a Mayo Clinic neurologist who cared for Campbell and appears in the documentary, says the Campbell family's openness "let the general public know anybody can get this disease, regardless of their background, intelligence or occupation."

The film also demonstrates how Campbell's particular occupation helped him — and his family — weather the challenges of the disease. That's in part because music can work as a balm against some of the insults of Alzheimer's. According to our friends at, "key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease."

Dr. Petersen says Campbell's life was a testament to that. Though he came to rely on a teleprompter to provide the lyrics to the songs he'd sung for decades, Campbell could easily perform guitar solos even years after his diagnosis. "He was a striking example of the dissociation between some memory and verbal skills, and then motor skills that go along with playing a guitar and remembering the music," Dr. Petersen tells "It does show that different regions of the brain are affected differently by the disease process."

Music can also benefit the family members of Alzheimer's patients. notes that music can help by "reducing anxiety and distress, lightening the mood and providing a way to connect with loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease."

That seems to be how things played out for the Campbell family, many of whom were part of the final concert tour immortalized in "I'll Be Me." Kim Campbell, Glen Campbell's widow, told Rolling Stone magazine that music probably helped her husband "plateau and not progress as quickly as he might have. I could tell from his spirits that it was good for him. It made him really happy. It was good for the whole family to continue touring and to just keep living our lives. And we hope it encourages other people to do the same."

That's one of the great messages of the film, according to Dr. Petersen. Glen Campbell's example demonstrates that "maybe we shouldn't dwell on what we cannot do because of the disease but focus on what we still can do," he tells

That sounds like a song worth singing to us.

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Tags: Alzheimer's Disease, Dr. Ronald Petersen, Patient Stories

Thank you for this story; I've shared. As a child in the 60s, I had a huge crush on Glen Campbell! I love his music yet today. And I LOVED the documentary I'LL BE ME! Saw it both in the theatre and on TV, which I DVR'd. Such a wonderful man. He had troubled times, but then don't we all! His heart and spirit are amazing! He will be missed. He passed just days after my mom who was also his age. Two greats have gone on to greater things!

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