Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and with the oldest segment of the population growing the fastest, there are no signs of the disease slowing down. The Alzheimer’s Assn.’s 2015 stats confirm that 5.3 million Americans are suffering, which is expected to increase threefold — to 16 million by 2050.
“Unless there’s a major scientific development, these will be the numbers,” says Lauren Miller, who with husband Seth Rogen is being honored with the unite2gether accolade from unite4:humanity for their work promoting awareness and raising money for Alzheimer’s research through their foundation Hilarity for Charity. “So many people have lost loved ones to it,” she adds.
The couple’s annual variety shows, combining music and comedy — including a sold-out affair at the Hollywood Palladium headlined by Miley Cyrus — have thus far raised more than $5 million since the nonprofit’s inception in 2012. James Franco’s Bar Mitzvah, alone, staged in October, raised more than $2.5 million.
For Miller, combatting the disease is personal. Her mother, a schoolteacher of 35 years, was 55 when diagnosed. “That was almost 10 years ago,” she reflects. “She was so young, but far from the youngest. She was the amazing mom that was always in your life doing everything and managing it.”
When Rogen met his future mother-in-law, she was already showing signs of the disease. “I never thought I’d have a way of helping people that was organic to my life,” he says.
Two-thirds of those afflicted (3.2 million) are women, and 200,000 are under age 65. It’s a growing crisis that’s bankrupting Medicare with one in five dollars spent on Alzheimer’s sufferers (or other dementias). Americans spent $226 billion on Alzheimer-related medical costs in 2015.
“We give 50% of every dollar raised to provide home-care,” says Miller. “It’s free, paid for by us.”
Funds are also raised through a nationwide program, HFC U, which supports college organizations throwing their own variety shows. More than 230 schools are involved, with more than $200,000 raised to date.
“I think what’s been very valuable is that I’m able to talk about our experiences, and really speak about the day-to-day situation, which is helpful and therapeutic,” Rogen says.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., yet the only one in the top 10 with no prevention, cure or way to slow its progression.
It’s been a very long, dark road,” Miller says. “Hilarity for Charity has changed my perspective and given me the power to take action over something that I was completely powerless over. I can’t save my mom, but I can help others.”