That the onset of Alzheimer’s, the progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions, can begin before one reaches an advanced age is a fact that some may find pretty surprising. According to Hopkins Medicine, Alzheimer’s can be categorized into two forms—common and genetic (familial), and symptoms of either may begin to show in individuals as early as their 40s or 50s.
This can be a disheartening and at times, deeply tragic circumstance for a person with Alzheimer’s and for their loved ones. This became Lauren Miller Rogen’s reality when she was 20 and her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“My mom had been diagnosed when she was quite young, in her mid-50s, and we spent the first few years not really talking about it,” Miller Rogen tells LAMag. “She felt a lot of stigma around it, and you didn’t really want to share that story. I was 22 the first time I thought ‘Oh, s–t, Alzheimer’s is coming for my mom. I felt so alone for so long.”
Her husband, the actor Seth Rogen, was well aware of the impact this was having on her life during this period. They were met with an idea from a friend to throw a variety show to raise money for Alzheimer’s, but she was initially reluctant. Despite the hesitation, she eventually opened up to the idea, and the couple began planning a charity event—albeit with no intention of making it a regular occasion.
“We barely even mentioned the word Alzheimer’s,” he recalls of the first event. “It was really just a way to maybe make some money and feel like we were doing something. We felt very hopeless; It was a very sad and dark time.
“Not only is Alzheimer’s affecting 55-year-olds, but it’s also affecting 25-year-olds as a result of that. Alzheimer’s needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week care. That’s incredibly expensive, [so if] you’re 25-year-old and your parents aren’t wealthy, then there’s no way to pay for that,” he continued.
The first event, Concert in the Park, took place in January 2012 and was a complete success. As stated on the charity’s website, the night “entertained guests with a variety show filled with music, magic, comedy, and more.” After receiving such a positive response, the two had a quick rise to become some of the most well-known advocates for Alzheimer’s awareness.
Throughout 2012, the Rogens continued building their platform dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s. They founded Hilarity for Charity (HFC), based on the promotion of healthy habits and values, including comedy to combat the disease. Its profits go towards aiding families that do not have the income to take care of loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s, as well as funding research for preventing the disease.
Ten years in, the charity has raised more than $18 million, awarded around 390,000 hours of in-home care, and gained numerous partners such as Netflix, Weill-Cornell Medical Center, and Home Instead. Overall, the charity is consistently promoting its message of caring for families to millions while activating the next generation of advocates.
The events have been just as successful. The themes of the nights have included a prom, a house party, a Halloween extravaganza, and a full-fledged bar mitzvah; this concept has been critical in making the experience unique and authentic. Instead of hosting a morose charity affair where the atmosphere of despair and the uphill battle becomes horribly intoxicating, HFC throws its themed parties while pushing along its message in a far more digestible manner.
“We thought, ‘How do we throw an event that we ourselves would be excited to go to whether it was for charity or not?” Seth Rogen tells LAMag. “Then, once you have all these people at a fun event, you can tell them about Alzheimer’s and it’s honestly a more palatable way to hear and learn about that stuff.”
After 10 years, the two are now faced with the question of where to go next. First up? A birthday party—’cause why not? The party takes place on October 1 in Downtown Los Angeles and will feature the best food, drinks, and talent available. Confirmed comedians include Ron Funches and Nicole Byer, and the event will also host an auction for a private skateboard lesson with Tony Hawk, a private cooking class with David Chang, and a private pottery class with the host couple.
Comedy is obligatory, but the Rogens went ahead and added none other than John Mayer to the bill. All ticket proceeds will go towards the charity and furthering all of the bases they have already touched on.
“We definitely did not picture we would be at the place we’re at. But we feel so overwhelmed with gratitude that we are,” she reflects. “I’ve gotten to take something that was so dark and so sad and have found so much light, support, and community—I feel so lucky to do it.”
Their hope for the future is that the charity will no longer need to exist. In an ideal world, they say, the government will step up and provide paid care for the ill as well as paid leave to those who need care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. However, both are well aware that such ideals tend to not entirely merge with reality in the end.
“Let’s say that doesn’t happen—I think we just hope to be able to continue to grow. We currently receive about 2000 applications a year for our care grant program, which we don’t advertise at all,” she says. “But hopefully, in time, we can really change the course of this disease by educating young people that they can care for their brains and perhaps even prevent, or at the very least delay, Alzheimer’s until there is a cure.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign for our newsletters today