A Conversation with Maria Shriver: The Importance of Alzheimer’s Advocacy for Women
Maria Shriver wears many hats. She’s an award-winning journalist, the former First Lady of California, and a member of the Kennedy family. What most people may not be aware of is her deep commitment to Alzheimer’s research, which began when her father, Sargent Shriver (founding director of the Peace Corps, and founder of Job Corps) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003.
Shriver launched what has become a legacy to help wipe out Alzheimer’s. With boots-on-the-ground activism and advocacy, she created a far-reaching campaign to educate the public about this brain scourge. This includes publishing a bestselling children’s book, “What’s Happening to Grandpa,” producing the award-winning movie “Still Alice,” and testifying before Congress, which led to the groundbreaking National Alzheimer’s Project Act.
The key that changed the Alzheimer’s conversation, however, was recognizing that Alzheimer’s affects a disproportionate number of women — almost two-thirds of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are female. Shriver founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) to discover why Alzheimer’s targets more women than men.
WAM, Stanford, and The Kensington Collaborate
On October 10, 2019, Maria Shriver teamed up with renowned neuroscientists Joshua Grill, PhD from the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments & Neurological Disorders, and Freddi Segal-Gidan, PA, PhD from the Rancho Los Amigos/USC California Alzheimer’s Disease Center, to discuss brain health research and advocacy at The Kensington Redondo Beach.
The Kensington Redondo Beach, our newest senior living community, was honored to host this landmark event to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and advocacy. Over 350 guests, including friends, family, new faces, and caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s, attended from throughout the country.
Kensington Place chef Tony Ng traveled to southern California to contribute his signature paella dishes, a seafood paella and vegetable paella, to the noteworthy event.
We deeply appreciate the dozen sponsors who generously supported this initiative to improve brain health awareness:
- Lancaster Pollard
- Home Care Assistance
- Optimal Hospice Care
- W.E. O’Neil
- City National Bank, An RBC Company
- Dina Tonielli Consulting
- Klang & Associates Interior Design
- Healthpro Heritage
- F&M Bank
- The Promotions Dept.
Kensington Place is also fortunate to partner with the Stanford neurology department. Stanford University, located just a few miles from Kensington Place, is one of the top research institutions in the world. Their researchers collaborate with leading experts in medical imaging, computer science, genomics, proteomics, stem cells, and bioengineering.
The Stanford Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) is part of a nationwide network of Alzheimer’s Disease Centers supported by the National Institutes of Health. The clinical and research focus of the Stanford ADRC includes both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the most common and second most common neurodegenerative disorders, respectively. Stanford believes both research and patient care can be advanced by comparing and contrasting the distinctive features of each disease.
If you or a loved one are concerned about your Alzheimer’s risk, you may wish to enroll in a clinical trial. The UC Irvine Consent-to-Contact (C2C) Registry conducts clinical research studies to improve quality of care for people living with disease, prevent disease in people at risk, and improve health for people of all ages. Anyone 18 years of age or older can sign up for the UCI C2C Registry to learn about new studies and how you can help. Neuroscientist Joshua Grill is the principal investigator of the UCI C2C.
Why Alzheimer’s Research and Advocacy Is Crucial Now
Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s. Close to six million people currently live with the disease. By 2050, this number is projected to reach a staggering 14 million Americans.
But while the focus on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s has accelerated, there hasn’t been an accompanying emphasis on the group most affected by this brain-damaging disease: women, who comprise the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients. This is what the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement is determined to discover. Through its campaigns and initiatives, WAM:
- Informs women of their increased risk and empowers them to take control of their cognitive health
- Educates the public about the connection between brain health and lifestyle choices
- Influences scientists to conduct women-based research
- Inspires foundations, philanthropists and corporations to support this research
- Shares stories of families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s
- Partners with organizations to provide caregiver relief grants.
Practicing Prevention Can Keep Alzheimer’s At Bay
While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of factors that can either enhance brain health or contribute to its decline. And some symptoms of dementia may not be memory loss at all. There are more than 50 “dementia mimics,” including:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Urinary tract infection
- Depression or anxiety
- Dehydration, which is common in he elderly because a sense of thirst declines with age
- Medication side effects
- Loneliness and isolation, which can create emotional stress
It’s vital to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is 50 percent genetics and 50 percent lifestyle, said neuroscientist Joshua Grill at the event. One common misconception is that you’ll get Alzheimer’s because “it’s in my family” or that you “don’t need to be concerned about it because it doesn’t run in my family.”
Both genes and lifestyle matter, says Grill. Everyone needs to be engaged in taking care of their brains. “The genetic story is complicated. We can’t do a gene test and say who will and who will not get Alzheimer’s disease.”
Top tips for brain health gleaned from this event include:
- Healthy, nutritious meals, such as those Chef Tony prepares at Kensington Place. Neuroscientist Grill recommends diets that are low in cholesterol, with lots of dark leafy greens.
- Exercise, which WAM’s Move for Minds experts describe as the best way to stay mentally sharp as we age. Says Grill, “Exercise is a wonderful intervention for brain health. It increases blood flow and causes the birth of new blood vessels, even causing the birth of new brain cells.”
- Engagement and enjoyment, something our Life Enrichment coordinators maximize with an ever-evolving calendar of events that can keep Kensington residents active from morning till evening.
- Sleep! A good night’s sleep helps the recently identified glymphatic system clean our brains of the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Exceptional Alzheimer’s Care Starts Here
At Kensington Place, memory care is our specialty. We understand that our lives are composed of memories: memories of friends, family, good times, and obstacles overcome. So when your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you can be assured we will love and care for them as our own. It’s our promise to you: an environment and loving, individualized, expert memory care that feels like home — because it is.
Even if you do not have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s essential to be aware of the risks, says Maria Shriver, because Alzheimer’s can begin developing decades before symptoms appear.
She says, “My father was one of the most brilliant people on the planet. When someone like that begins to repeat himself, lose things, and act differently, at first you say ‘Well, he’s getting older’ or ‘He’s just distracted.’ I’m trying to educate people: When you notice things changing, you must act.”
To experience the night in its entirety, watch the full video below, and hear from Maria herself on how continuous efforts will work towards a brighter future in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.