What It’s Like Watching a Parent Struggle With Dementia, According to One Actress Who’s Lived It

When Jane Krakowski‘s beloved father was diagnosed with dementia more than a decade ago, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt actress and her family rallied behind him as he became wheelchair-bound and slipped further away while also staying strong for one another.

Now, two years after his death, Krakowski is spreading the word about the prevalence of dementia and how it affects not just the person diagnosed but entire families. She’s partnered with AARP, and she took part in a recent panel discussion on dementia hosted by Katie Couric. 

The numbers are staggering. Krakowski tells Health that 60 million people have been diagnosed with dementia in the United States, and 6 to 10 million are expected to be diagnosed next year. Dementia isn’t just one disease; there are many types. Krakowski’s father was initially diagnosed with early onset dementia, and later, vascular dementia.

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“It’s not easy, as anyone who’s going through it knows,” she says. “We had a very long process with my dad, between 10 to 15 years in total. But there were so many years where he was still so much of himself that we knew and loved. When you see glimmers of the person that you know and love—and they come through at the most unexpected times—that lights you up and it keeps you going through this disease.”

Krakowski’s 7-year-old son, Bennett, was born after the initial diagnosis, and she expressed her gratitude that her father got to know him. “When new life is brought into the family, I think that really helped give my dad happiness and light through this process,” she says.

But watching her beloved father become wheelchair-bound wasn’t easy. During her talk with Couric, Krakowski said she was in awe of her mother.

“I always knew my mom was an extremely strong woman, but she was even more so,” she says. “She stepped up to the plate and was incredibly strong, emotionally and physically, for my father throughout the entire process. And it is wonderful to see the deep love that my parents had for each other, and that continued throughout the entire time.”

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Though her father is gone, Krakowski says her tight connection to her family continues to help her move forward. She specifically credits her son as her source of strength and love. 

“I got home around 12:30 or 1 a.m. after 18 hours of filming and I was just exhausted,” she says, of a recent day after filming her hit Netflix show. “All I wanted to do was go into bed and I was just like, ‘Ah, peace. I can go to sleep.’ But then I heard, ‘Mommy!’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, man. No way could he be up right now.’ But then, to see him run with that joy and excitement to see me and give me a hug … just having that moment where someone is so excited to see you, no matter what time of day, night or morning—that fills me with a lot of joy.”

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