Innovative Nonprofit Provides Support for ALZ Caregivers and Families
We talk often about Alzheimer's disease here on the program, and you know why It's the number one health care crisis in the world. And so I'm very happy to bring onto the program Bonnie Wattles. She is the executive director of HFC, formerly known as Hilarity for Charity. Bonnie, welcome to the program.
Bonnie Wattles: Thanks, Ric. Thanks so much for having me today.
Ric Edelman: Tell us about HFC.
Bonnie Wattles: HFC was founded by actor, comedian, writer, filmmaker, producer Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller. Rogen really, in response to Lauren's family's history with Alzheimer's disease. When Lauren was just 12, her grandfather had Alzheimer's disease. When she was 18, her grandmother had Alzheimer's disease, and when she was just 25 and when her and Seth had just met, her mother was diagnosed with early onset. Her mom, Adelle, was 55 years old. So she's really seen firsthand the devastation of this disease, the amount of care that it requires on the part of family members, and obviously, her and Seth were very devastated by the diagnosis. And I think they found their way to humor and action in the face of this diagnosis. For her mom, they had a group of very talented, motivated friends in Hollywood. And in 2012, they threw their very first variety show with Bruno Mars, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, and have been building the organization ever since.
Ric Edelman: You know, Alzheimer's, of course, isn't very funny. So talk about how you turn this very serious subject into something that we somehow find a way to laugh about.
Bonnie: So we use comedy to entertain our guests and our donors and as a way to raise awareness about the disease and elevate the conversation. We also use comedy just in our communication so that whether you're a caregiver or a family member of somebody who has Alzheimer's, there's some levity and lightness so it doesn't feel so onerous and so dark.
Ric Edelman: Talk about how HFC supports the family members of those who are suffering from this terrible disease.
Bonnie: One of our biggest programs is our in-home respite care program. That is a program that sends professional caregivers into the home to alleviate the family caregiver. So families can apply online for a respite grant. To date, we've given over 380,000 hours of care away. Right now, we receive about 150 applications a month for that program, and we can award about 20% to 30% of those applications, primarily due to funding constraints. So if any listeners want to make a donation, we are looking to increase our investment in that program every year because really it's an endless need for families.
Ric: Well, the biggest issue, of course, is that the overwhelming majority of caregivers, 70% to 80% of them are family members. They're providing care for free. And that puts a huge strain on families who are having to leave their own jobs to provide care. And a huge number of these folks are themselves older. So you have a 75-year-old providing care for a 75-year-old. And it's a huge challenge emotionally, physically, economically.
Bonnie: You're absolutely right. In addition to elderly spouses caring for their loved one, we see people in their 30s and 40s being sandwich generation caregivers. And we're also seeing a number of young people being primary caregivers to their grandparents or their parents. So we have over 30 support groups running today with drop-in support group seven days a week for ongoing support groups. We match people based on where the need is, whether they're a spouse caring for their spouse, or they're a child who has a parent with Alzheimer's. We found that the impact we're making on caregivers is alleviating the stress, helping them feel more prepared for the caregiving journey and helping them meet the needs of the patient that they're caring for.
Ric: Are people able to go to these support groups online at no cost?
Bonnie: Correct. All of our programming is free.
Ric: So you're doing a lot of work to educate young people about Alzheimer's.
Bonnie: Yes, we are. This is a disease that's normally thought of as an older person's disease, but we also know that the hallmarks of the disease are starting to begin in the brain 20 to 30 years before the onset of symptoms. So it's really, really critical that we start taking care of our brains as early as possible. And so we really feel that teaching college students and high school students about what they can do today to start building a healthy brain to prevent this disease tomorrow is critically important.
Ric Edelman: What can we do to improve brain health and to protect our brain?
Bonnie: So we promote diets that are full of leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, nuts or low-fat dairy. Really modeling the Mediterranean diet. We also promote good quality sleep - 7 to 9 hours a night. We also talk about emotional well-being that includes stress reduction, mindfulness activities, as well as cognitive engagement, learning something new and keeping your brain cognitively engaged. That means for young people, staying in school. And finally, exercise is so critically important. About 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week.
Ric: When we talk to every healthcare specialist, they all say exactly what you just said. It's all about exercise and diet and sleep and stress and socialization. In other words, if you do what Bonnie just said to protect your brain, you will at the same time be protecting all the other systems in your body as well.
Bonnie: You're right. What's good for the heart is also good for the brain.
Ric: I remember when I was a kid, we weren't allowed to say cancer because everybody knew that was a death sentence. We've eliminated the stigma of having cancer, but it now still seems like our society is struggling with folks who have Alzheimer's cognitive decline broadly. Are you noticing that?
Bonnie: Yeah, I think there's definitely stigma around Alzheimer's disease, and we want to get young people talking about it so that they can talk to their parents and grandparents and friends about it because we have to bring this disease out of the shadows. And we also have to teach people how to interact with somebody with dementia and how to be more of a dementia friendly society.
Ric: So how can people support the work that you're doing at HFC and the support of caregivers?
Bonnie: Sure. Well, one thing, please visit our website. We are HFC.org. If you're a caregiver or a family caregiver, we have a monthly newsletter that's rich in resources and caregiving tips.
Ric: That's Bonnie Wattles, the executive director of HFC, formerly Hilarity for Charity, HFC.org. Bonnie, thanks so much for being with us on the show today.
Bonnie: Thanks, Ric. Thanks for having me.
Ric: Bonnie and I had a much longer conversation than here on the show. You can watch, listen or read the entire dialogue. Just go to TheTruthAYF.com.