Barbara Jean Edmonds would have turned 89 on August 25 this year. To commemorate her birthday her son Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds shared a beautiful Instagram post of them together from one of their first trips to Europe.
In her last years, Mrs. Edmonds was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder that slowly destroys a person’s memory and thinking skills. Even today, nearly a decade after her passing in 2012, Babyface gets emotional talking about that time. However, he revisits it with EBONY, to help bring greater awareness to the disease that affects more than six million Americans directly as well as the millions more who care for them.
Pinpointing exactly when Mrs. Edmonds’ Alzheimer’s set in is difficult. “She passed away at 80, [but] I think she started experiencing it as early as 75,” the music legend tells EBONY. He didn’t realize she had it at first, especially since his mother lived in Las Vegas and he was based in Los Angeles and was busy with his work. “She was able to just kind of play it off for a lot of us. Because I wasn’t there all the time, I couldn’t tell completely. When my aunt was there, she started noticing some things.”
It was easy to miss. “My mom, at the time, was the oldest of her siblings and no one had gotten to that age,” Babyface explains. Having no family history of the disease also kept him from even considering Alzheimer’s or anything else. “I didn’t know whether it was just old age,” shares Babyface.
He did, however, realize that something was not quite right. He sought the counsel of Larry Ruvo, a businessman who founded the Keep Memory Alive Foundation and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. Ruvo suggested that he get his mother tested for the disease and it confirmed that Mrs. Edmonds indeed had Alzheimer’s disease.
“You see your mom slipping away,” recalls Babyface. “In terms of her being right there in front of you, but just slipping away. And the evening comes, and she starts to get scared. No matter what, at six o’clock, she’s suddenly like ‘I got to get home.’ She sits and talks to you like you’re her son but then she’s saying, ‘I have to get home to my kids.’”
He also recalls the one time where she had gotten dehydrated and was in the hospital. “I remember she woke up and I was talking to her, and she said, ‘the fight is on today, isn’t it?’ and I said, ‘the fight?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, the champ is going to fight today.’ I said ‘Okay, who is going to fight?’ and then she said Joe Louis. She had gone back that far. It’s like time travel,” he says.
Patience and flexibility became essential for Babyface to navigate the challenges he and other family members encountered in dealing with his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. “I learned that the way to deal with it is to try to work with them,” he shares. “It’s such an interesting disease too, because, for some, it’s a complete personality change. Someone that is the sweetest person in the world becomes the meanest, and the meanest person suddenly becomes sweet. So, there’s so much we don’t know about what happens.”
As Mrs. Edmonds’ health continued to decline, she eventually required 24-hour care and was placed in a hospice. For her eightieth birthday, however, she was able to celebrate in her own home, but not too long after developed a kidney problem. About a month later, she passed away.
To raise money to fight the disease and other disorders, the “Whip Appeal” crooner was honored alongside the great Smokey Robinson during this year’s 25th Annual Power of Love Gala, held on October 16 at Resorts World in Las Vegas benefitting the Keep Memory Alive Foundation and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Brain Institute.
“They’ve been really working really hard trying to figure out some way to cure this thing and it is something that is definitely in the Black community a lot more than people talk about it and realize,” he says.
However, Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to catch anyone else off guard. “It’s something that is genetic,” adds Babyface. “There are early tests that you can do.”
And the earlier the disease is detected, the greater the hope is for finding a cure.