Comedian discusses the power of laughter as a caregiver
Wayne Brady is able to find humor in almost any situation. This trait has won the hearts of audiences around the world throughout Brady's two-decade career as a comedian, actor, musician and TV host.
It's also served him well as an Alzheimer's caregiver for his grandmother, Valerie Petersen, who raised him from the time he was a baby. To Brady, she's always been "Mom."
Brady, who struggled with a stutter as a child, fell in love with performing in high school after a friend invited him to take a one-line role in a play. As soon as he took the stage, he discovered his stutter had vanished. He joined a local improv troupe and finally felt like he had found his calling.
In 1996, Brady moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion, and doors began to open. Just two years later, he landed a role on the popular TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and became a household name.
Over the next decade, Brady would go on to host "The Wayne Brady Show," appear on Broadway and in dozens of TV shows and movies, win five Emmy Awards and earn a Grammy Award nomination. He became the host of "Let's Make a Deal" in 2009 — a TV show he used to watch with Valerie when he was young — and added a special trademark, saying "I love you, Mom" at the close of every episode.
In 2018, Valerie began experiencing memory changes. Brady had to take on a new role: caregiver.
"She said she felt like she was in a fog — forgetting names, or forgetting what she was doing in a certain place or why she was there," Brady says. "That's when we got very concerned and took her to the doctor."
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Valerie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Over the next three years, Brady watched her devastating decline as the disease progressed. Despite the heartbreak, Brady says that finding moments of humor helped get his family through the pain.
"Every once in a blue moon, especially towards the end when she wasn't talking much, she would just snap to. You'd be trying to feed her, and out of nowhere, she went from sitting there with her eyes closed and not speaking, to [saying], ‘I said I didn't want that soup. You eat it. I don't want it,'" Brady says. "And we would laugh so hard because we could see that she was still in there somewhere."
Brady, a longtime supporter of the Alzheimer's Association, deepened his commitment to the cause after Valerie's death in March 2022.
In August, Brady competed on the TV show "Celebrity Game Face" hosted by comedian Kevin Hart, selecting the Alzheimer's Association as his charity of choice. He also dedicated his recent performance on "Dancing With the Stars" to Valerie, who always loved the TV show.
"I think of the disease as someone turning down the lights in a room until, at some point, you're in utter blackness," Brady says. "So when those moments of light would pop through, that would just be amazing."