Remember ‘The Notebook’? Gena Rowlands’s Family Shares Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

By | June 26th, 2024

Oscar-nominated actor Gena Rowlands has been living with Alzheimer’s disease. She starred in feature film The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks's story of love and dementia.

Four-time Emmy winning and two-time Golden Globe winning actor Gena Rowlands is likely a very familiar face. She has starred alongside her husband, John Cassavetes, in films including ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ (1974) and ‘Gloria’ (1980), although her film The Notebook (2004) which earned over $116 million, is what earned her worldwide recognition. Her son, film director Nick Cassavetes, who directed her in The Notebook, recently revealed that Rowlands, now 94, has been living with Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years.

Based on the best-selling novel written by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook tells the story of Allie and Noah, a young couple (played in their youth by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling) whose love story spanned decades. Rowlands plays an older version of Allie, who lives with dementia in the film. 

“I got my mom to play older Allie, and 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,” Cassavetes told The Today Show in an interview — the family’s first public discussion of her diagnosis. “She’s in full dementia. And it’s so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it’s on us.”

Rowlands’ family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease — her mother, actress Lady Rowlands, also had Alzheimer’s.

“I went through that [Alzheimer’s] with my mother, and if Nick hadn’t directed the film, I don’t think I would have gone for it — it’s just too hard. It was a tough but wonderful movie,” Rowlands said of playing a character living with Alzhiemer’s while promoting the film.

Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than six million Americans aged 65 or older, age being its most influential risk factor. Scientists still aren’t sure what causes Alzheimer’s, but many factors have been linked to Alzheimer’s risk, genetics included.

For example, carrying one copy of APOE4, which is known as ‘the Alzheimer’s gene’, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 25 percent. Two copies of this genetic variant increases risk between three- and 12-fold. A few actors, including Chris Hemsworth, have recently come forward to share that they are carriers of this gene. That said, even carrying two copies of APOE4 does not confirm you will develop Alzheimer’s. Scientists have discovered that up to 40 percent of dementia cases are preventable or could at least be delayed. For example, being mindful of one’s diet and exercise patterns are shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and treating underlying health conditions — from depression to obesity to diabetes — linked to dementia can also reduce risk.

Alzheimer’s May Be Preventable: Neurologists Say These 4 Things Matter Most


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