Screen Legend Gena Rowlands Battling Alzheimer's Disease

Gena Rowlands' diagnosis adds her name to a growing list of prominent figures battling Alzheimer's disease, raising further awareness of this challenging condition. Her experience resonates with countless families facing the realities of dementia.

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Screen Legend Gena Rowlands Battling Alzheimer's Disease
4 Min Read June 28th, 2024

Gena Rowlands, a towering figure in Hollywood with a career spanning nearly seven decades, is facing a personal battle with Alzheimer's disease, according to her son Nick Cassavetes.

The announcement comes from a recent interview Cassavetes gave to Entertainment Weekly while reflecting on the 20th anniversary of his film "The Notebook," where he directed his mother. The beloved romance featured Rowlands, now 94, portraying an older version of the character played by Rachel McAdams, who also struggles with dementia in the film.

A Family Legacy of the Disease

Cassavetes, a director and actor himself, revealed a heartbreaking connection between art and reality when completing "The Notebook."

We spent a lot of time talking about Alzheimer's and wanting to be authentic with it, and now, for the last five years, she's had Alzheimer's.

This isn't the first time the disease has touched the Cassavetes family; Nick's grandmother, actress Lady Rowlands, also battled Alzheimer's.

A Difficult Decision and a Bittersweet Memory

In a 2004 interview with O Magazine, Rowlands discussed how her mother's experience influenced her decision to take on the role in "The Notebook."

This last one [The Notebook] was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer's. I went through that with my mother, and if Nick hadn't directed the film, I don't think I would have gone for it.

Cassavetes shared a bittersweet anecdote from filming "The Notebook" (available for purchase or rental on various digital platforms). After showing the completed film to studio executives, they requested a reshoot with Rowlands crying more in the emotional scene where her character remembers her long-lost love.

Cassavetes recounted his mother's reaction to the request, highlighting her dedication and strong spirit.

She said, 'Let me get this straight. We're reshooting because of my performance?'

About "The Notebook"

"The Notebook," a motion picture that was released in 2004, is a Nicholas Sparks romance film directed by Nick Cassavetes, the son of actress Gena Rowlands. The story unfolds on two timelines. In the present day, an elderly couple named Noah (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) reside in a nursing home. Noah reads a love story from a notebook to Allie, who struggles with dementia.

This notebook tells the story of their passionate romance in the 1940s when they were young (played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams). Noah, a poor but charming young man, and Allie, a wealthy socialite, fall deeply in love despite their differing backgrounds. Their idyllic summer together is filled with stolen moments, adventures, and whispered promises of a future.

However, social pressures and disapproval from Allie's family threaten to tear them apart. World War II also separates the couple as Noah goes off to fight. Letters become their lifeline, but fate seems to intervene when Allie receives news of Noah's death while he's presumed missing in action. Believing Noah is gone, Allie eventually agrees to marry a respectable young man chosen by her family.

The film weaves between the past and present, showcasing the enduring love between Noah and Allie. As Noah reads their story in the nursing home, fragments of memory begin to flicker in Allie's mind. The emotional climax hinges on whether their love story can transcend time and memory loss.

Growing Shadow of Dementia: A Looming Challenge for Families

Dementia, a general term for memory loss and cognitive decline, affects millions of people worldwide. According to the Alzheimer's Disease International's 2020 World Alzheimer Report, over 55 million people were living with dementia globally in that year. This number is projected to nearly double every 20 years, reaching 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050.

The United States is not immune to this trend. Alzheimer's Association data shows nearly 7 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. This number is expected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050. This alarming increase is largely due to the aging population, as dementia predominantly affects older adults.

The growing number of people with dementia translates to a significant burden on families. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be physically and emotionally draining. Symptoms can include memory loss, difficulty with daily activities, personality changes, and even behavioral problems.

Family members often become primary caregivers, assisting with bathing, dressing, medication management, and emotional support. The emotional toll can be immense. Witnessing a loved one's decline and dealing with challenging behaviors can cause stress, anxiety, and even depression for caregivers. Social isolation is another common issue, as the demands of caregiving can limit opportunities for outside activities.

Financially, caring for someone with dementia can cripple families. Traditional health insurance and Medicare doesn't cover long-term care costs, such as home care or assisted living facilities.

While Medicaid, the government program for those with limited financial resources, can help, its strict eligibility requirements often leave families on the hook for substantial expenses.

Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for Alzheimer's and dementia care (and all other types of long-term care), but medical underwriting requires someone acquiring coverage to have fairly good health, and most people do so well before retirement age.

The rising cost of long-term care services, combined with the potential loss of income due to reduced work hours for family caregivers, creates a significant financial burden for families. This financial pressure can further exacerbate the emotional stress associated with dementia care.

Rowlands Career

Gena Rowlands' illustrious career includes four Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. She's best known for collaborating with her late husband, director John Cassavetes. They created ten films together, including "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974) and "Gloria" (1980), both of which earned Rowlands Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. In 2015, she received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her exceptional film career.

The news of her battle with Alzheimer's casts a shadow on her remarkable career but also sheds light on the personal struggles faced by many families dealing with this progressive disease.

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About the Author

Anna Marino is a seasoned writer specializing in topics related to family, aging, and lifestyle in retirement. With a keen eye for detail and a compassionate approach, she delves into the intricacies of intergenerational relationships, the challenges and joys of growing older, and strategies for making the most out of retirement years.

LTC News Contributor Anna Marino

Anna Marino

Contributor since June 22nd, 2024

Editor's Note

Retirement planning isn't just about beaches and hobbies. It's also about being prepared when you need extra help with the everyday living activities we take for granted today. Dementia is only one of many reasons you might need long-term care services as you age.

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The best time to acquire Long-Term Care Insurance is when you are younger; most people do so in their 40s or 50s. Yet, affordable options are available in your 60s and beyond, depending on your health.

Find a qualified LTC Insurance specialist who represents the top-rated insurance companies to help you navigate finding the most affordable option based on your age, health, and other factors. An experienced specialist will provide accurate quotes from all the top companies to help you make the right decision. Most general insurance agents and financial advisors lack the experience and knowledge required to help you with long-term care planning.

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