Lauren Miller (For a Good Time Call...) was just 22 when she noticed her mother repeating things. Three years later, her mother was officially diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Two years ago, Miller and her husband, Seth Rogen, formed Hilarity for Charity, a foundation designed to raise awareness and funds for the millions affected by the disease. The comedic duo is pushing Washington for more research while also opening up a typically stigmatic discussion.
We spoke with the actress about her fundraising efforts, Rogen’s support, and what the disease has taught her about her own health.
Shape: What was your experience with Alzheimer’s before your mother’s diagnosis?
Lauren Miller (LM): It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, because my maternal grandfather passed away when I was 12. My grandmother had it as well and passed away when I was 18. When I was in my early twenties, my mom started repeating things, asking the same questions, telling the same stories. It was like, “Oh, god, this is not right.” When I was 25, my brother and I finally told our dad we had to take her to the doctor.
Shape: Seth mentioned in his speech that people often feel alone when family members are diagnosed. Did you feel that way?
LM: It was brutal. I remember noticing that something wasn’t right at my college graduation, and I didn’t say anything to anyone at all. Seth and I started dating nine years ago, which was when I finally acknowledged that something wasn’t right. Luckily for me, he’s been unbelievably supportive, and he's always been there to listen. I’m very fortunate.
Shape: Aside from Seth’s help, how did you find comfort in feeling lonely?
LM: The more I shared my story, the more people shared their stories with me. It was nice to connect with people through support groups. You know, it’s a disease that has no treatments, no cure, so once you get it, that’s it. Taking any kind of action, like Hilarity for Charity, has gotten me through it.
Shape: How has knowing that this is in your family affected the way you live your life?
LM: Well, how much do I want to buy into the things they say? "Take fish oil and coconut oil and play mind games and exercise daily." I’m much more aware of those things, and I certainly try them and that has been a huge difference in my life.
Shape: How did you manage being in a difficult mental state?
LM: Losing a parent over eight years is a very dark journey. I spent the first four years feeling bad and angry and sorry for myself. But I’m a proactive person, as was my mom, and I don’t like to be told no. I had to focus on what I could change—my attitude and my actions.
Shape: How has humor helped you through it?
LM: Obviously humor is the center of my life. Seth and I make each other laugh all the time, and we always say that when something is so sad, you just have to laugh. When my mom was first diagnosed, she used to tell funny jokes over and over again. We just sort of held onto that in moments.
Shape: What action can we help to raise awareness and research funds?
LM: Hilarity for Charity has a college program where we provide everything they need for fundraisers. We hold a contest every semester, and the campus that raises the most money wins a screening and a meet-and-greet with Seth.
Shape: What made you want to target your efforts toward a younger generation?
LM: Alzheimer’s is a disease without any treatment, or any cure. It is not a natural part of aging. The toll of caring for a loved one with the disease affects the entire family financially, physically, and mentally. And if the younger generation doesn't do something about it now, it will affect every one of us. It's estimated that 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer's in 2050. I'll be close to 70 years old then. My generation and the millennials behind us are going to have a problem on our hands that will cost the country an estimated $1 trillion while robbing all of us of the retirement we deserve. Young people have the potential to change this! We have really really loud voices! We just have to use them. Make Alzheimer's a disease that no one is ashamed to talk about, and share our stories until the government starts giving more funding to lead to a treatment and cure.
Shape: What’s something women can do to help raise money for research and spread awareness of the disease?
LM: You know how we women always like to do everything ourselves? Well, of course, women are at the center of the Alzheimer's epidemic—almost 2/3 of the Americans with Alzheimer's are women, and over 60 percent of caregivers are women. However, the Alzheimer's Association has launched a really incredible movement to rally our voices. It's a really beautiful campaign about celebrating how women use their brains, and how we can use them to wipe out Alzheimer's. Click here to learn more about the campaign. Shonda Rhimes recently joined the campaign—now there's a woman whose brain has given us a heck of a lot of great Thursday nights!
For more information on Hilarity for Charity, follow them on Twitter. Watch Rogen's speech below and then tell us: What's your experience with Alzheimer's been? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @Shape_Magazine!