Why young people need to worry about Alzheimer's disease
I'll just say what we're all thinking. For most of us reading this, Alzheimer's disease is irrelevant. It's for old people. It's a danger we don't even want to think about for a good 30 years.
The truth is that most of us won't give a second thought to Alzheimer's disease, until it affects someone we love. For me, Alzheimer's disease hit close to home when my husband's grandmother recently passed from dementia-related complications. For Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller, Alzheimer's disease became real as the couple watched Lauren's mother deteriorate from an early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis she received when Lauren was just 25 years old.
Lauren says, "My grandfather passed away from it when I was 12, my grandmother when I was 18 and my mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's when I was 25. She was only 55. Throughout the years, I started realizing how many young people didn't understand Alzheimer's. How it ravages the person who has it, and how it can truly test the family who loves them."
Therein lies the problem. We've all heard of Alzheimer's disease before, but most of us "young folks" just aren't talking about it. Maybe we know a grandparent who had it, but it still seems like an issue to worry about in the distant future.
According to Lauren, this attitude is damaging to the Alzheimer's cause. This is precisely why Seth and Lauren have begun their work to raise Alzheimer's awareness by creating Hilarity for Charity (HFC). As an HFC founding member and chairperson, Lauren explains, "So, we're trying to build awareness, which will hopefully lead to money, research and care. And, I'm hoping that with Hilarity for Charity, we can show people how important it is to end Alzheimer's – and have a little fun along the way."
After working in the Alzheimer's community for several years, Seth and Lauren saw a need to be filled – a need for a fun and uplifting organization that got the younger generation's attention, while raising awareness for Alzheimer's at the same time.
Lauren says, "Our dear friend Matthew Bass came to us and said, 'Hey, let’s do a variety show for charity. Let’s raise money for Alzheimer's.' And I was incredibly touched and overwhelmed. I didn't want to do it at first, but he [Matthew Bass] pushed on, and we did it. And it was just a very natural thing for it to turn from an event into an organization. There were lots of people reaching out to us."
Hilarity for Charity functions as a two-year running Los Angeles variety show, targeted at young, hip professionals in an all-night music and comedy event. You'd probably recognize a few names in the star-studded cast, the likes of which have included Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow, Mindy Kaling and Bruno Mars. HFC has most recently branched out into a new program called HFC U, where college groups host their own HFC fundraisers on campus. Last weekend, Seth and Lauren visited the University of Vermont to celebrate the HFC U winners – the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and Alpha Chi Omega Sorority that raised over $30,000 for the Alzheimer's Association.
Image: ALISON REDLICH/AP Images for Hilarity For Charity U
Clearly, HFC isn't your average Alzheimer's charity. Lauren explains why, "Alzheimer's, for obvious reasons, has an older connotation to it because it is considered an old person's disease. So often times the events don't include dick jokes and humor. But in order to get young people involved you need to talk to them like they talk to each other. So that's really our goal – to be different."
But that still doesn't answer the question of why Alzheimer's should matter to this younger generation. Even if someone in your family hasn't been affected by the disease, Lauren insists that Alzheimer's is "going to affect every single one of us." She continues, "Alzheimer's is growing at a very rapid rate. And I know young people don't like to think about the future, but in 2050, I'll be 70, and there will be nearly 14 million people with Alzheimer's. We really need to step up now. Use those young voices while we have the energy."
The more we talk about Alzheimer's, especially among young people, the more hope there is for a cure. "There is always a lot going on. Alzheimer's has been cured, treated and slowed in mice before, but it hasn't been transferred to humans yet. There are a lot of things going on in the pipeline. When Seth spoke to Congress last year, someone at the NIH told him that many young scientists don't want to go into Alzheimer's research because it is an underfunded space. They will write grants that won't get funded. Alzheimer's is way behind other diseases," says Lauren.
Seth and Lauren aren't giving up. Next on the couple's calendar is the upcoming Hilarity for Charity show on October 17 in Los Angeles. Seth and Lauren are also making a documentary called "This Is Alzheimer's," funded by crowdsourced donations.
I have a huge amount of respect for celebrities who use their platform to talk about something that matters. I have even more respect for Seth and Lauren for opening up about a personal struggle that could affect anyone of us. Instead of acting like Alzheimer's is irrelevant, let's take a page from their book. Let's tell some dick jokes and just start talking about it.