Acting as a caregiver for your parent is difficult under any circumstances, but doing so when they have dementia or other brain health issues presents its own set of challenges. These are challenges that Jane Krakowski knows all too well.
The award-winning actor and star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock spoke for the first time publicly about her father having dementia at an AARP event launching its "Disrupt Dementia" campaign in conversation with Katie Couric. The campaign includes AARP's $60 million investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund — the first and largest venture fund focused on discovering and developing effective new drugs for dementia.
Krakowski's father, Edward, died two years ago after living with vascular dementia for nearly a decade. Like most people with dementia, the initial mental decline was gradual but eventually became more noticeable — most notably, when he tried to make coffee by putting the entire coffee maker on the stove, Krakowski told Couric.
It took five years for her father to get a diagnosis, she said, and after a certain point, the doctors didn't have any other treatments to offer him. Krakowski remains hopeful, however, that the AARP's campaign will help lead to significant developments in the treatment of dementia.
“I really hope that this investment leads to quicker diagnoses, medications that work long-term or just work, and I hope we can find a cure,” she said during the public event.
Although Krakowski's mother was her father's primary day-to-day caregiver, Krakowski also has experience caring for him as he progressed through the stages of the condition — which ultimately left him unable to walk. After the event, Krakowski told SheKnows that for her family, the local resources near their home in New Jersey — especially the Friendship House — were invaluable.
"[Friendship House] gave him fun and light in the day, and he got to relive and remember his love of the arts, and he got to paint and listen to music and dance and all those sort of things amongst people who were trained to deal with people suffering from dementia," she explained.
Given Krakowski's background as a singer, she was especially active in her father's music therapy.
"At one point, I was able to get him up and dance when he was wheelchair-bound," she told SheKnows. "Those things mean a lot to the patient because it brings them a movement of levity and happy memories. So I felt that was a lot of my purpose or what I could give in the caregiving process."
Ultimately, Krakowski decided to publicly discuss her father's dementia to try to raise awareness of the condition during Alzheimer and Brain Awareness Month.
“We have so far to go with this disease,” she said during the conversation with Couric. “All I can do is share my personal story and hope that whatever light we can shine on dementia will bring more research, more attention and more funds so that the next generation doesn’t have to go through the long, painful process that is this disease.”