Celebrities Offer Their Caregiving Advice
These famous people share lessons they learned the hard way
by Edna Gundersen, AARP, December 24, 2019
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Katie Couric, 62
How you know her: The TV newswoman's biggest jobs were as cohost of NBC's Today show and anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Her caregiver experience: She cared for her husband, Jay Monahan. He died in 1998 at age 42. Her sister died of pancreatic cancer in 2001.
Advice: "I wish I had sought out other caregivers and other patients to compare notes with and to find support from and just be able to vent to people or to cry with people,” she told Parade magazine. “I felt very isolated. You feel like you're in the cancer world versus the healthy world."
Giving to others: Couric, who speaks frequently about caregiving and the need for colorectal cancer screenings, cofounded Stand Up to Cancer in 2008 and recently partnered with Merck for the online project WithLoveMe.com to help cancer survivors and caregivers connect through sharing their stories.
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Patrick Dempsey, 53
How you know him: The actor played neurosurgeon Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd in the hit TV series Grey's Anatomy.
His caregiver experience: Shuttling between work in Los Angeles and his hometown in Maine, Dempsey cared for his mother, Amanda Dempsey, after she was stricken with ovarian cancer in 1997. She died in 2014.
Advice: At the People v. Cancer conference in November in New York, Dempsey told attendees that one of the most important and gratifying roles for a caregiver is encouraging the family member to share life stories.
"You want to know about your mom, and your kids want to know about your journey and your childhood."
Giving to others: Dempsey founded the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing, a holistic care facility in Lewiston and South Portland, Maine.
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Brad Garrett, 59
How you know him: Now on the ABC sitcom Single Parents, the actor and stand-up comic is best known for playing Robert Barone on the hit series Everybody Loves Raymond.
His caregiver experience: Garrett helped care for three loved ones who lost their lives to cancer: his father, who died of colon cancer, and two brothers, who had pancreatic cancer and lung cancer.
Advice: Jokes and playfulness help keep depression at bay.
"Because so many people in my life got sick, people were starting to call me the plague,” he told SurvivorNet, noting that a sense of humor was vital. “In my family, it was kind of the go-to."
Giving to others: Garrett is a major supporter of Stand Up to Cancer. At its 2008 star-studded telethon, he underwent a prostate exam live onstage.
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Sean Hayes, 49
How you know him: The actor, comedian and singer stars as Jack McFarland on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace.
His caregiver experience: Hayes was a primary caregiver for his mother, Mary Hayes, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and died at 78 in 2018.
Advice: He urges caregivers to accept outside help and for others to offer it. “One caregiver might need a hand preparing meals for the week while another could use help running errands or just getting a short break to help them to recharge so they can be their best selves for the loved ones who are counting on them."
Giving to others: Hayes has teamed with Embracing Carers, an initiative to increase awareness, discussion and action about the needs of caregivers. One goal is to raise 1 million minutes of time to assist caregivers across the world.
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Marg Helgenberger, 61
How you know her: The former CSI actress plays Judge Lisa Benner in All Rise and costarred in A Dog's Journey this year.
Her caregiver experience: While Helgenberger was studying at Northwestern University, her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and her mother was struggling with breast cancer. Helgenberger toggled between acting jobs and home to help her mother and brother care for her father, who rapidly declined.
Advice: "Burnout can happen, and it can sneak up on you,” Helgenberger told the Caregiving Club. “Whatever makes you happy, whether it's taking a walk with your dog or a hot soak in a tub or watching silly television, it's important that everyone take the time to do that."
Giving to others: She supports the American Association for Cancer Research.
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Queen Latifah, 49
How you know her: Latifah, born Dana Owens, rose to fame as a hip-hop sensation and later shifted to soul and jazz singing. She's also an actress who starred in Girls Trip, The Secret Life of Bees, and Mad Money and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Chicago.
Her caregiver experience: She assisted her mother, Rita Owens, through many years of chronic heart failure.
Advice: Be loving but also tough. “One of the things I found most challenging was … learning to say no,” she said in an interview with AARP. “I had to be strong. People love you, and they come in the house with cakes and cookies. I had to be the bad guy."
Giving to others: Before her mother died in March 2018, Latifah became the spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's Rise Above Heart Failure campaign to raise awareness of the conditions’ symptoms and treatment.
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Rob Lowe, 55
How you know him: After rising to prominence in such films as The Outsiders, Class and St. Elmo's Fire, the Brat Pack actor went on to star in successful TV series The West Wing, Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Recreation.
His caregiver experience: He and his two brothers were thrust into caregiving after his mother, Barbara Hepler, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer when Lowe was in his late 30s. She died in 2003.
Advice: Go easy on yourself.
"Without you taking care of yourself, you can't take care of anybody else,” Lowe said in a Newsweek interview. “It's an intimidating role to step into, and there's no set way to do it.
"You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to know all the answers. You are likely to make some mistakes, and that's fine. Just know that the care you give has the potential to be one of the most rewarding acts of your life."
Giving to others: He has been an outspoken advocate for caregivers and supports Stand Up to Cancer.
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Joan Lunden, 69
How you know her: The TV personality and author was cohost of ABC's Good Morning America from 1980 to 1997 and has been a special correspondent for NBC's Today show since 2014. She's written eight books.
Her caregiver experience: Lunden cared for her mother until she died of Alzheimer's disease in 2013.
Advice: Getting and giving emotional support is critical but don't skip vital paperwork, she told Preserving Your Memory magazine.
"You should have a copy of your parents’ and even your spouse's driver's license and passport. You should know where their health and life insurance papers are, the mortgage or rental agreement to where they live and the car title.
"You also need to have a legal and medical power of attorney so you can act on their behalf, a HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] release so medical institutions can release information to you, an advanced health care directive, otherwise known as a living will, and you need to know whether they have advanced long-term health care insurance."
Giving to others: Lunden became a motivational speaker for Alzheimer's patients and caregivers. She hosted Taking Care, a four-part RLTV series on caregiving, and she is a spokeswoman for A Place for Mom, a senior living referral service.
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Seth Rogen, 37
How you know him: The Canadian actor and comedian cowrote and starred in Superbad, The Green Hornet, This Is the End and Pineapple Express. He's also known for the comedies Neighbors and Knocked Up.
His caregiver experience: Rogen helped his wife, Lauren, care for her mother, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at age 55 after working as a teacher for 35 years.
Advice: Don't suffer in shame and silence, Rogen told InStyle magazine.
"It's been nice to see my wife take control emotionally of a situation that was not very controllable. I think the most impressive thing she does is just talk about it.
"There's a lot of shame associated with having Alzheimer's. Some people don't want anyone to know. But it's good to acknowledge it."
Giving to others: Rogen and his wife established Hilarity for Charity, an annual entertainment event featuring actors and comedians who help raise funds for and awareness of Alzheimer's disease.
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Maria Shriver, 64
How you know her: A member of the Kennedy clan, Shriver is a TV journalist, author and a former first lady of California when her now-ex-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor.
Her caregiver experience: She helped care for her father, politician Sargent Shriver, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003. He died in 2011.
Advice: “Caregiver guilt is common, but there's nothing to feel guilty about,” she said in an interview with The Hill. “You can love the person you're caring for but hate how challenging the act of caregiving can be.
"That's a normal feeling, and it's OK. Do the best you can and remember that you only have so much control over the situation that you're in. Accept that you're going to have these feelings but then do what you can to surround yourself with love and support so that you don't become isolated or overwhelmed.
"None of us can do this on our own. Finally, share your story. Storytelling is a powerful tool, and your voice matters.
"So many people are experiencing what you have and are continuing to experience today. Your challenges, your triumphs, what has helped you will probably help someone else, too."
Giving to others: In 2010, she issued The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's, which revealed that two-thirds of all brains with Alzheimer's in America belong to women and that almost two-thirds of all U.S. caregivers are women.
Shriver established the Women's Alzheimer's Movement to raise awareness and money on behalf of women affected by the disease.
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Alana Stewart, 74
How you know her: The former model and actress starred in the reality series I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and Stewarts & Hamiltons. She's the ex-wife of actor George Hamilton and singer Rod Stewart.
Her caregiver experience: Stewart was Farrah Fawcett's best friend and stayed by her side from the time of the star's anal cancer diagnosis in 2006 until her death three years later, helping her cope with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and the invasive media.
Advice: "None of us know what to expect when someone we love gets cancer,” Stewart said on The Justin Root Show. “All you can do is be there for that person.
"You have to be strong. There were times I would go in my room and break down and cry but I couldn't let her see me.
"We had to stay positive. We have to enjoy every moment we're alive and wake up and find something to be grateful for every day, even if it's just that the sun is shining.”
Giving to others: Stewart is president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Fawcett in 2007 that supports cutting-edge cancer research and prevention programs and provides financial assistance for patients in need.
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Meredith Vieira, 65
How you know her: The broadcast journalist was an original host on daytime talk show The View and cohost of NBC's Today show.
Her caregiving experience: Vieira's husband, journalist Richard Cohen, has been battling multiple sclerosis since he was 25 and was twice diagnosed with colon cancer.
Advice: The progressive, incurable autoimmune disease has been challenging for the couple, and Vieira says it's essential for both to let off steam.
"Certainly, he's allowed to vent because he's got chronic illness,” she told Oprah magazine. “But I am, too, because there are days I can't stand it and the limitations it puts on the entire family.
"It's good to say it. But we don't dwell. You can think, ‘Why us?’ but then it's like, ‘Why not us?’ So many people are dealing with stuff and it puts it into perspective."
Giving to others: Vieira and Cohen are longtime activists and supporters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.