Last month, close to 1,000 Hollywood luminaries came together to raise fun and funds for Alzheimer’s at the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual A Night At Sardi’s. During the last 20 years, A Night At Sardi’s has generated more than $20 million to support important research, develop programs to support family caregivers, and create campaigns to bring awareness to this disease.
This year, I was on the “purple carpet” in Beverly Hills to interview celebrities attending the 20th Anniversary of the gala event. They shared how Alzheimer’s has affected their life—and why they come together to raise awareness and funds to find an end to Alzheimer’s each year.
On the Purple Carpet
David Hyde Pierce was the host for this year’s event. An Emmy-winner (Frasier) and Tony Award winning actor (Curtains), David has been a longtime advocate and champion for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease which affected both his father and his grandfather. As he told me, “Losing a father and grandfather to Alzheimer’s was twice too much for my family.” Watching the impact that the disease had on both his mother and grandmother – the caregivers to his dad and grandfather respectively – gave David a profound respect for the plight of the family caregiver.
David has testified before Congress to support the passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which was signed into law by President Obama with plans to fund $50 million for Alzheimer’s research and provide another $130 million to include caregiver support and education over the next two years. This is a great first step in a movement that needs to keep moving and David is helping to lead the cause with his support for a disease he calls “an epidemic in this country.”
I asked him about how caregivers can keep their spirits up even in the face of such a devastating disease. As someone who brought his urbane wit to the indelible Dr. Niles Crane on Frasier, David replied, “Anyone who has dealt with Alzheimer’s knows how important it is to have a sense of humor and to be able to maintain one, it is what gets you through the day.”
Jane Seymour, star of the big and small screens (Somewhere in Time, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) joined her husband, TV and movie producer James Keach (Walk the Line) to walk the purple carpet for family and friends impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. Jane’s aunt was caregiver to her uncle with Alzheimer’s for many years and both Jane and James are producing a documentary on country music legend Glen Campbell as he battles the stages of Alzheimer’s during this farewell music tour.
Jane told me, “For the caregivers, that is the hardest job of all…when someone has Alzheimer’s you forget that the caregiver has to be there 24/7 . . . and in many cases it is detrimental to the health of the caregiver.”
James told me that being on the road with the Campbells while filming the documentary really hit home for him on how difficult Alzheimer’s is on the family – especially the primary caregiver such as Campbell’s wife, Kim. But, having his family surround him on tour helps Campbell maintain a sense of balance in a world that is progressively out of balance.
Peter Gallagher, TV (Covert Affairs, The O.C.) and film star (Burlesque, American Beauty) as well as recording artist (7 Days in Memphis) has felt the full impact of Alzheimer’s on his family as he was caregiver to his mother who lived with the disease for 20 years. In fact, Peter was one of the original stars who joined other celebrities at the very first A Night At Sardi’s event 20 years ago.
Peter told me an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be as devastating to the caregiver as to the person diagnosed, “Doing it yourself, I don’t know how long you are going to last . . . [but] the more you understand about the disease the better.” He said that this disease can be “embarrassing” and “terrifying” but that is why the Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start to find the help and support needed.
Joey McIntyre, as the youngest member of the 80s boy band phenomenon New Kids on the Block, Joey is also the youngest of nine growing up in Needham, Massachusetts. His mother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Joey told me, “It’s a process and it’s different for everybody . . . it is bittersweet because with my mom, she is still there, she’s got the one liners and she is so funny and she is still a performer but she doesn’t remember five minutes ago . . . it’s tough for the families.” While Joey said that some of his other siblings provide the primary care to his mom, his role is to get the word out – using his fame to bring attention to Alzheimer’s and helping to find a cure.
Marilu Henner remembered for her starring role on TV’s Taxi, is currently guest starring on a new TV program based in part on her real life gift of hyperthymesia, which is superior autobiographical memory skills. As seen on 60 Minutes, Marilu can essentially recall tiny details of things that happened on any date in time during her life. Ask her what happened on November 1, 1976 and she can tell you. She serves as a consultant on the CBS series, Unforgettable, which stars Poppy Montgomery as Detective Carrie Wells with the same memory skills as Marilu. The program received the Alzheimer’s Association Abe Burrows Entertainment Award for the inclusion of an Alzheimer’s story arc that raises concern and awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and is a reminder of how prevalent Alzheimer’s disease is in our everyday lives.
When it comes to caregiving, Marilu told me, “The caregivers have to take care of themselves, sometimes the patient looks better than the caregiver . . . they have to be able to take time for themselves [because] they are on their reserve tank most of the time . . . you have to set up your environment to win for both of you.” Her latest book, Total Memory Makeover, helps those hoping to keep their brain in as good a shape as their bodies.
Lamorne Morris, TV host and actor (New Girl) is one of the young crop of stars who believe shedding light on Alzheimer’s disease is important to everyone. While he is not touched by the disease in his family, he has many friends who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s. I asked Lamorne about the importance of younger generations in the fight against Alzheimer’s. He told me, “This is the age of social media and so the younger kids are checking for their favorite people on Twitter and on Facebook . . . someone on Twitter who has a million followers, if you send out a Tweet about the cause, that is a lot more people who are aware of it and I think it is very important that more and more younger people get involved.”
The event also honored Susan Disney Lord with the Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver of the Year Award. She was a caregiver for her mother, Patricia Disney who recently died from Alzheimer’s at the age of 77. Disney Lord is a philanthropist, advocate, and active member of the Alzheimer’s Association California Southland Chapter Board of Directors and a member of the family who has helped to make the world “a happier place.” Her hope is that we can create a world where Alzheimer’s no longer exists.
That wish is one that would make Susan and the many other attendees gathered for A Night At Sardi’s very happy indeed.
About Blog Author Sherri Snelling
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.