"We’re fighting Alzheimer’s"

Superbad actress Lauren Miller shares how she and husband Seth Rogen are waging war on the disease her mother has—and why humor is a big part of their battle plan.

Ellen Byron
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They’re one of Hollywood’s hottest couples: Lauren Miller and Seth Rogen are hip, young actors who have starred in comedies that draw equally hip, young fans—movies like Superbad, 50/50, For a Good Time, Call.... The versatile duo even writes many of their film scripts. It’s no surprise, then, that Lauren relies on these same skills, especially humor, to cope with her mom’s devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

What may surprise you, though, is how the 31-year-old encourages others to laugh along with her, as this recent tweet attests: “If you’re in LA...like laughter & hate Alzheimer’s, head to the Comedy Store”—a popular nightspot that regularly hosts events for the nonprofit Hilarity for Charity, which Lauren and Seth started to raise funding for Alzheimer’s research (hilarityforcharity.org). And while the actress has acknowledged feeling hopeless about her mom’s situation, she notes that comedy is a part of her life, and that sometimes, something is “so sad that you have to laugh.”

Lauren’s own heartbreaking experience with Alzheimer’s began at her college graduation, when she noticed a change in her mother, Adele. “She told me the same story a couple of times,” Lauren shares. Since both of Adele’s parents had Alzheimer’s, Lauren was all too familiar with the symptoms. “I thought, Oh no, this can’t be happening. She’s only fifty-two.

It took a year for Lauren to share her fear about her mother’s condition with anyone. “Seth and I had just started dating when my parents came to visit,” says Lauren. “She was repeating jokes, stories, questions. We’d say, ‘Don’t you remember asking me that two minutes ago?’ And she didn’t. Seth was the first person I ever talked to about it.”

Later, Lauren’s father, Scott, took his wife to the doctor, who confirmed it was Alzheimer’s. Her mom “was mortified,” Lauren says. “She didn’t want anyone to know that she had what she called a mental disease. I’d say, ‘That’s not at all what that is. You don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed.’ ” Eventually, Lauren’s mom was forced to retire from her job teaching first-graders.

Seeing her mom battle Alzheimer’s at such a relatively young age has been overwhelming for Lauren. “I spent the first three or four years of her diagnosis angry and beyond depressed,” she says. “To not have my mom mentally there for things like my wedding, and as I’m becoming an adult, is so hard.”

Along with running Hilarity for Charity—which has raised an impressive $1 million—Lauren has found solace by joining a support group specifically for younger people. “Alzheimer’s can be so alienating, especially if you’re dealing with it in your 20s,” she says. “I had so many friends say, ‘My grandpa had it.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, my grandpa had it too. And now my mom has it.’ But we’ve connected to many people who have a similar situation. We’re not alone, and that’s given me so much comfort in this hard situation.” Here, Lauren shares the caregiving tips that help her family weather the storm with grace.

Take care of the caregivers.
Lauren’s dad was determined to keep his wife at home. “If my dad wants to take care of my mom, then we should be taking care of my dad,” Lauren says. “He talks to a therapist now, which has been great for him. He took a class at UCLA. We had a barbeque with friends and invited him. For someone like my dad, who’s the most devoted husband on the planet next to mine, he’s going to be by her side as much as he possibly can. And it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t get to an unhealthy point.”  If you need help, contact organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) and Leeza’s Care Connection, a group started by TV talk show host Leeza Gibbons that offers free services to caregivers (leezascareconnection.org).

Fight despair.
Alzheimer’s may be prevalent on her mother’s side of the family, but Lauren refuses to live in fear of the disease. Instead, she focuses on eating right and relieving stress with things like yoga. But her biggest way to ward off hopelessness is by running her charity. “I just hope I work hard enough so that there’s a cure by the time I’m at risk.” 

Seek support.
Don’t be silenced by any perceived stigma about Alzheimer’s, says Lauren. “Share your story and listen to others, because you never know if something you’re doing could work for someone else, and vice versa.” 

Check out our Alzheimer's and Dementia Resources.

October 2014