Taking care of her mother at such a young age turned out to be incredibly isolating. “I will never forget finally mustering the courage to attend a support group, only to find that I was the youngest participant by decades and the only one who wasn’t caring for a spouse or elderly parent,” she recently told Well+Good over email. “There was no place for me, or my grief, or my unique set of challenges as a young caregiver.”
The experience led Miller Rogen and her now-husband, the actor Seth Rogen, to begin what they call their “brain health journey.” As they learned more about Alzheimer's and neuroscience in general, they began to realize that this disease and other dementias are something to take seriously long before you reach your senior years.
“We learned that Alzheimer’s can begin to develop in the brain 20 to 30 years before the onset of symptoms,” the Rogens say. “Research also suggests that four in 10 cases of Alzheimer’s disease may be preventable by adopting specific brain health habits. Basically, now is the time to take care of your brain.”
Meet Hilarity for Charity
Inspired to share what they learned—and support others in similar situations—in 2012, the Rogens launched Hilarity for Charity (HFC), a nonprofit that supports family caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, raises awareness, and invests in brain health education for all ages. And they do it all with a signature dose of levity and humor.
“They say laughter is the best medicine. That’s not true. Actual medicine is the best medicine. But laughter is maybe second best,” say the Rogens. “Watching a loved one decline is the hardest thing we’ve ever been through, and we wouldn’t have survived that darkness without finding some light in it.”
"They say laughter is the best medicine. That's not true. Actual medicine is the best medicine. But laughter may be second best." —Seth and Lauren Miller Rogen
Over the past decade, HFC's celebrity events have raised $20 million to support caregivers and fund brain health education and research. A Caregiver Respite Program provides free, in-home professional care in order to give family members a break, while HFC online support groups offer a chance for caregivers to connect, and workshops are available to help anyone learn more about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's.
One of HFC’s signature programs is HFCUniverse, a free, digital Alzheimer’s prevention curriculum for high school and college students that’s taught by celebrities. “Research we conducted with NewYork–Presbyterian/Weill Cornell [Medical Center] proved students are more likely to watch and retain medical education delivered by celebrities than by actual doctors,” says Seth. “I was the primary professor for our first iteration of HFCUniverse, and we’re so thrilled to be introducing new celebrity professors this year.”
HFC’s reach on campuses is only growing after an April merger with Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s, which engages a nationwide network of students and young caregivers in advocacy and community service. Today, HFC is the largest youth organization fighting against Alzheimer's.
How the Rogens prioritize brain health at home
On their brain health journey, the Rogens have learned that certain lifestyle habits can impact your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or related dementias. “There are 13 known modifiable risk factors for dementia, including social isolation, physical inactivity, hypertension, and depression,” they share. Based on those factors, HFC promotes five healthy brain habits, which the Rogens say they “really rely on and integrate as much as possible into our daily lives.”
“It is so important to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a day,” they say. “It helps to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time for sleep consistency, get morning sun, keep your bedroom cool, and reduce noise while sleeping.”
2. Eat well
“Our brain is the organ most easily damaged by poor diet—isn’t that crazy?! To improve your diet, add brain healthy foods like blueberries, extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens, nuts, fish, and poultry.”
3. Take care of your emotional well-being
“Friendly reminder—stress is bad for us! Improve emotional well-being by meditating, getting outside in nature, being social, decluttering your space, and talking about your feelings with people who will listen without judgment.”
4. Get physical exercise
“Exercise is great for your brain! The key to creating and sticking to an exercise plan is finding what works for you. Move your body, raise your heart rate, and stick with it.”
5. Work on cognitive fitness
“Active learning improves memory, creativity, mood, and self-esteem. Keeping your mind active is one of the most impactful ways to delay the onset of cognitive decline.”
So what does all that actually look like in practice for the Rogens? “I took up hiking,” says Seth. “We’ve both learned to make pottery. Lauren’s meditation record stands at 20 consecutive days. (Hey, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.)”
That’s not to say that they think these lifestyle changes are a cure-all. “Do we still worry about a future with Alzheimer’s? Of course,” admits Seth. “But education has empowered us to channel that fear into action—for ourselves, and for our community.”
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