Anyone who's been religiously tuning in to The Young and the Restless these past two weeks is going extra heavy on the de-puffing eye cream. The current storyline in which Jack and Ashley's mother, Dina, battles Alzheimer's disease is not only bound to win portrayer Marla Adams an Emmy nomination, but it also has viewers crying like never before. And it's all the sadder when you find out that the tragic tale was inspired by executive producer/head writer Mal Young's real-life mom, who fought her own battle with the disease before passing away.
"When my dad died, my mom truly fell apart. She was depressed and clung to her job, which seemed to be the only thing keeping her afloat. But then my sister and I received calls that she wasn't showing up to work, or that she was making mistakes like giving people the wrong change back for their purchases. When she had to give up her job, it was a massive hit. I think she was terrified of coming home. It was empty inside that house, and she must have felt very alone," he shares with the Alzheimer's Association. "So many people I've talked to can relate to this loneliness and the heartbreak that emerges when one grapples with Alzheimer's disease. My mom was married to my dad for 53 years, and after he passed, Alzheimer's seemed to seep in and take over. It weakened her. Although I phoned her every day after dad died, I would just listen to her say the same thing over and over. Alzheimer's had changed her before we even knew it had made its appearance."
Because his mother was a huge fan of the British soap opera Coronation Street ("My mom watched every single episode every day of the week until the day she died," he says), Young knew he was destined for a job in the daytime industry. And he's grateful that this medium allows him to tell his mother's story -- which is shared by millions of people around the globe.
"Soap operas, particularly in the United Kingdom, have always had a great tradition of taking real life issues and touching audiences with them. In America, Y&R was historically the first soap to feature this type of material," he points out. "In my career, I have learned that I don't want to preach to people. I've tackled the difficult topics through my television work: domestic violence, breast cancer, children with disabilities. But I am simply a storyteller providing a mirror to society, saying: 'This is you.' Featuring these topics opens our audience up for discussion and it helps people grappling with these issues realize that they aren't alone. We want them to see themselves in the characters, and they want to be heard."
He continues, "It's my belief that drama should reflect the bad and the good of life, and I've always approached it in an optimistic way. As human beings, we take our knocks and build ourselves back up. We keep calm and we carry on. Soap operas can be very therapeutic for the audience, and I know from experience that if I'm in a room with 10 people, nine of them can relate to the topic of Alzheimer's because they've experienced it in one way or another. As much as it's important to include crime and love and comedy in the stories we tell as entertainers, it's also greatly valuable to highlight an important health crisis and situation in life that millions of people can connect with. Rather than go the route of making a dull documentary, I choose to entertain and inform. We can depict Alzheimer's in almost real time, unfolding the storyline week after week. Viewers that come along on this journey may feel pain, but they will also feel like part of the Abbott family, or see their own experience with the disease be reflected through the medium of television. It makes for amazing, important drama."
For more from Young on Dina's struggle with Alzheimer's, including details on why he chose this character specifically to help tell the story, you can read his full interview here.
What do you think about Y&R's Alzheimer's story? Do you like the way the tale is being told? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.