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Dr. Earl Hampton pictured with TCU nursing alum Lizzie Fleming ’23 at her graduation celebration.
Dr. Earl Hampton, a retired pediatric doctor, who was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2019, is pictured with TCU nursing alum Lizzie Fleming ’23 at her graduation celebration.

A Dementia-Friendly TCU

Dr. Earl Hampton, a retired pediatric doctor, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2019. This is also known as dementia with Lewy bodies and is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Hampton said he feels very fortunate because he knows there are others like him in other support groups who’ve progressed a lot faster than he has. When he was first diagnosed, he had a lot more symptoms; his doctors have helped him with medication and diet. He said he is not sure he would be able to have a full conversation like he did when we interviewed him for this story. At times, he would go walking and get lost. Now, he said he has some confused days, but it only happens once every two or three months.

“In general, my level of functioning is much better than it was.”

Dr. Michelle Kimzey, associate professor of nursing, met Dr. Hampton when she was recruiting for a study. “He wanted to be an advocate and help our students in any way he could,” explains Dr. Kimzey. “He has been front and center in our dementia elective every semester.”

Dr. Hampton and his wife have become mentors to students, agreeing to speak in her classes and be interviewed by nursing students, as well as social work students, for various projects.

“I hope that I’ve helped her classes understand people with dementia a little better,” said Dr. Hampton.

“We want to be dementia friendly – inclusive and aware and understanding,” said Dr. Kimzey.

‘Dementia Friend’ is a designation that the person(s) has received basic dementia knowledge training and has pledged to raise awareness about and decrease the stigma of dementia. One of these friends is Lizzie Fleming ’23 … 

Fleming aimed to become more involved in the community. In her sophomore year, this was difficult to do in the middle of a pandemic. With fewer and fewer people not being out in public, lack of social interaction sped up the decline in mental health. This was especially true for individuals in the senior community as many are immunocompromised.

As part of a dementia support group initiative, Dr. Hampton was paired with Fleming during the pandemic to meet weekly via FaceTime or Zoom to get that social interaction.

“It’s good to have something to look forward to,” said Dr. Hampton. “She is a relentlessly positive person.”

He explains how she would remind him of things that happened a couple of weeks prior since the disease makes his recent memory poor.

Small talk turned into deep and meaningful conversations that helped their friendship grow. At times when Fleming was stressed about her clinical rotation and job interviews, Dr. Hampton was a sounding board and gave her advice.

“We use the term mentor in place of a friend because we quickly discovered students see them as a mentor,” said Dr. Kimzey. This was especially the case with Fleming.

“He’s been a really good mentor to me,” said Fleming. “If anything, he is the hero. I think he’s helped me more than I’ve helped him.”

Mentorship Beyond TCU

A friendship that began with weekly Zoom chats has continued throughout the rest of Fleming’s time at TCU. Fleming visited with Dr. Hampton at his home where they’d play board games and learn about each other’s lives and families.

“Elizabeth is just one of those special people that are just very giving, and I just really appreciate her.”

Dr. and Mrs. Hampton recently attended Fleming’s graduation party to help celebrate her accomplishment. “Elizabeth is going to be a world-class nurse,” said Dr. Hampton. “She really cares about people.”

Fleming will be working in the Intensive Care Unit at Parkland Hospital. During her time at TCU, she participated in the Dementia Club where she was vice president of, the Student Nurses Association and Frogs for Pediatrics. She was also a Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences mentor and Philanthropy Assistant in Zeta Tau Alpha.

Fleming is very excited about what her future holds. “I’ve lived in Fort Worth my whole life; TCU is in my backyard,” she said. “I’ll miss the memories, but I’ll always be nearby. I worked so hard and I’m ready for the next stage of my life.”

Learn more about Rethinking Dementia and follow the club on Instagram @DementiaFriendlyTCU.