Jane Krakowski On Her Father's Battle With Dementia And Why She Has Hope For A Cure

"I think everyone has a story and this happens to so many people."

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, AARP is taking aim at what might be its toughest challenge yet: dementia. Teaming up with the organization in standing up against dementia — something more than 6 million people in the United States suffer from — is 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Jane Krakowski, who has a personal connection to it.

According to Merriam-Webster, dementia is "a usually progressive condition (such as Alzheimer's disease) marked by the development of multiple cognitive deficits (such as memory impairment, aphasia, and the inability to plan and initiate complex behavior." To tackle this it, AARP's Brain Health Fund has invested $60 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF) in the hopes raising awareness of, developing treatments for, and eventually curing the diagnosis once and for all.

The reason Krakowski is so passionate about this is because she lost her father, Ed, to dementia, and has seen how it affects not only patients but their caregivers. She and the rest of the family — including her mom, Barbara — stepped into this role during a health battle that stretched on for nearly 10 years. At a recent AARP event, A Plus spoke to Krakowski, who opened up about the hope associated with telling this story, why this was the right time to talk about this chapter of her life, and what she wants the everyone to know about those diagnosed with dementia as well as their caregivers.

A PLUS: There’s a lot of pain associated with telling this story, but there’s also hope. Can you talk about that?

JANE KRAKOWSKI: I think it is about the hope, and that's what we're hoping this investment will do: bring hope to families and future generations. I was personally, obviously, very affected because my father was diagnosed with dementia, and the reason I wanted to speak about it today was to hopefully help other people who are going through it as well as raise awareness, raise as much money as we can to find more answers, better medications, and — hopefully — a cure.

Jane Krakowski (left) with Katie Couric during the AARP event on June 25, 2018.
Jane Krakowski (left) with Katie Couric during the AARP event on June 25, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images for AARP

Did your mom give you any words of encouragement or wisdom before telling your father’s story?

We spoke about it a lot before I decided to open up because I'm not one who tends to talk about the private side of their life very often. We thought it would honor my father in some ways and I think we, as a family, felt that if we could do anything to raise the awareness and help families in the future that would be the reason to do it.

What sort of facts do you want people to take away from you deciding to share your personal story?

I think everyone has a story and this happens to so many people. Knowing the numbers — that 6 million people in America alone are diagnosed with dementia right now and millions more will be diagnosed by next year — those numbers are so huge. So it's an every person story at this point. That's what it was about for me.

Jane Krakowski (left) with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins (center) and Katie Couric.
Jane Krakowski (left) with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins (center) and Katie Couric. Photo Credit: Getty Images for AARP

What did you learn from the whole journey with your dad's dementia, all the ups and downs?

What I learned from my personal experience was how hard it was on the caregiver. I think it is as hard for — or maybe possibly harder at times — for the caregiver as it is for the patient, and that the caregiver needs as much support and help as the patient, especially if it's for the long haul. We had a very long diagnosis for my father because he was diagnosed with early onset dementia and was ultimately diagnosed as vascular dementia. So we were learning throughout the entire process about dementia, about the type my father had, about what we could do to alleviate it, what we could do to help him. What we came up against many times was there wasn't really a way we could help my father a lot of the time and, as a family member, that's very frustrating. Today has been a bit cathartic for me as well, sharing this story, because I've learned that so many people have gone through the same thing my family has gone through. I think it helps both ways.

What did the experience of being a caregiver for your dad have on you and your mom?

As I said, I think it's so hard on the caregiver and my mother has proven time and time again to be an incredibly strong woman. She was incredibly strong emotionally, physically, and in every way that my father needed, which was wonderful to see. But, having said that, my brother and I felt also that she needed some help through the process as it got harder and harder to care for our father. We tried to give her as much support and help personally, but we also found support groups for people who are going through this — which I think is a great resource and hopefully all the people who are going through this in our country have local resources available to them. We happened to have nurses in places my father could go, and the nurses were trained to deal with people who were suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's while my mother had a support group for where caregivers all get to talk about what they're going through. I thought that was very helpful throughout the process.

Jane Krakowski (left) with Katie Couric during the AARP event on June 25, 2018.
Jane Krakowski (left) with Katie Couric during the AARP event on June 25, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images for AARP

Is that the best way we can ensure caregivers have the support they need?

I think so, and just have an understanding of how hard it is for them as well. That was the case for our particular family and it is an amazing thing what caregivers do — full stop — in our country for all patients.

How do you feel your father’s legacy will influence your career going forward?

I carry him with me every day, his memory, everything he taught me though life. We certainly shared a sense of humor, a love of music and Broadway, and many other things. I think every child carries on and carries the lessons and love their parents give them.

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