Four Questions for Maria Shriver

article-img

When one hears the name Maria Shriver, many things come to mind: the journalist, the author, the film and television producer, the former First Lady of California, the mother of four, and the daughter of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who were both committed to public policy and activism as founders of the Peace Corps, Head Start, and the Special Olympics, respectively, to name just a few. Maria Shriver’s background and her accomplishments have all led her on a dedicated mission to address a national epidemic: to get people to pay attention to Alzheimer’s disease, starting with women’s health, so we can end this thing.

Shriver refers to herself as “a daughter of Alzheimer’s disease.” Sargent Shriver was diagnosed with the disease in 2003, so she experienced the effects of the disease firsthand. Eventually he could not recognize anyone in his family, including his wife or any of their children. By the time her father passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2011 at the age of 95, she had become one of the nation’s leading advocates for families struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2009, she wrote a best-selling children’s book, What’s Happening to Grandpa, as a tool for children to understand the effects of Alzheimer’s and how to support someone with it. That same year, she testified before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging to encourage Congress to make Alzheimer’s a national legislative priority, which paved the way to the December 2010 passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. In 2010, she published “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s,” which was the largest study ever conducted to look at the significant impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women, who make up the majority of patients and caregivers. She also executive produced the Emmy Award-winning, multi-platform series, “The Alzheimer’s Project” with HBO, as well as the Academy Award-winning film, Still Alice, which tells the tale of a woman affected by early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

American Senior asked Maria Shriver about The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, the ore ganization she founded that focuses on why Alzheimer’s disproportionately impacts women.

American Senior: This spring you testified before the Senate Aging Committee on the urgency to increase federal funding for Alzheimer’s disease research. How optimistic are you that we will end Alzheimer’s disease in your lifetime?

Maria Shriver: I’m very optimistic. Federal funding is at a national high and Congress gave a $2 billion raise in funding to the National Institutes of Health in May—$400 million of which will be going to Alzheimer’s research. Alzheimer’s is still insufficiently funded compared to other major diseases in America but the increases we’ve seen are a promising step in the right direction. The good news is that this is a nonpartisan issue. So long as our leaders in Washington, DC remain committed to funding the important research that’s being done by our nation’s leading scientists and researchers, then I am confident we will continue moving closer to a cure.

AS: On June 4, you will be hosting the Move For Minds event simultaneously in eight cities, which will benefit The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. But it’s more than that. What will happen at Move For Minds?

MS: Move For Minds is an exciting day of education and engagement around the ways that we can keep our brains working at their best. The event is in partnership with Equinox Sports Clubs and features a specially designed brain-body workout, a marketplace with brain-healthy snacks, and a panel discussion featuring the superstars of brain research, fitness, nutrition, and more. Our goal at Move For Minds is to share valuable information about what we can do today to live a brain-healthy lifestyle and the steps we can take to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The event benefits The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement in its mission to fund research that will help wipe out this disease, which disproportionately affects women.

AS: What lifestyle changes can an older adult—as opposed to someone younger in their 40s and 50s—do now to prevent cognitive decline or minimize the impact of Alzheimer’s?

MS: The key components to a brain-healthy lifestyle are applicable no matter what age you are. These include exercise, getting a proper amount of sleep, practicing meditation and other forms of stress reduction, and eating a healthy diet. Staying socially engaged—be that with family, friends, and/or members of your community—is also critical. If you can combine socializing with some form of exercise (dance lessons, for instance), then all the better. Activities like coloring are another great way to challenge your mind, relieve stress, and forge connection. I just finished my first coloring book, Color Your Mind, which is specifically designed for individuals with Alzheimer’s and the people who love them. The book is filled with coloring pages, activity suggestions, information about living a balanced life, and ideas for shared reflection and conversation. The bottom line is that there are a variety of healthy lifestyle choices that we can all make starting today. The more we can implement these choices into our daily lives, then the more empowered we’ll be to help prevent cognitive decline.

AS: How do you inspire someone to care about this disease if they haven’t been personally affected?

MS: The one thing we all have in common is that we all have a mind. That’s why it’s in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to save them. We focus so much on what we can do to keep our bodies healthy and fit over our lifetimes. Why wouldn’t we also want to do the same for our brains? It’s our most powerful organ, and yet is so often overlooked.

Every 66 seconds, a new brain develops Alzheimer’s. Two-thirds of those brains belong to women, and no one knows why that is. Those are startling statistics. Anyone who cares about protecting their mind or the minds of those they love should care about Alzheimer’s and join us in our mission to end it.