A Conversation with Maria Shriver: What Women Need to Know About Alzheimer’s
You may know Maria Shriver as an award-winning journalist, the former First Lady of California, and a member of the Kennedy family (her mother is Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who created the Special Olympics). But you might not be aware of Maria’s deep passion for Alzheimer’s advocacy and research, which began when her father, Sargent Shriver (founder of the Peace Corps, Job Corps and Head Start), was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003.
Maria subsequently wrote a children’s book to explain Alzheimer’s to children whose grandparents are experiencing memory loss, produced the award-winning film Still Alice (about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease), and testified before Congress in support of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. And she didn’t stop there.
She began to hear from women whose mothers and grandmothers had Alzheimer’s, in disproportionate numbers — almost two-thirds of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women. Shriver founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) to find out why.
WAM 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.
Because brain health is so critical — and because nutrition plays a key role in maintaining mental fitness — chefs from Kensington senior living communities nationwide participated in this landmark event, even if they had to travel across the country to do so, such as our own Chef Samir, who journeyed to southern California with the Kensington Falls Church Executive Director, Amy Feather.
We’re extremely grateful for the 12 sponsors who generously supported our initiative to improve brain health:
- 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.
Alzheimer’s and Women: Searching for the Critical Connection
Currently, more than 5.8 million people have Alzheimer’s in the United States; someone develops the disease every 65 seconds. By 2050, Alzheimer’s is projected to affect a staggering 14 million people in the U.S. alone. The vast majority of them will be women. The question is, why are women more susceptible to this prevalent form of dementia?
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.
How to Postpone or Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of strategies that can protect older brains and ward off memory loss.
First, it’s important to understand that there are more than 50 memory loss “mimics”: conditions that look like cognitive decline, but are due to something else.
Memory loss mimics can include such wide-ranging conditions as a TBI (traumatic brain injury, which can result from a fall), poor nutrition, lack of exercise, an undetected infection such as a UTI, and social isolation, which can lead to depression. So starting with what we can control makes a huge difference in cognitive health, say Shriver and the neuroscientists who participated in our conversation.
Neuroscientist Joshua Grill explains, “Our lifestyle approach to the way we treat our bodies and the way we treat our brain begins in young adulthood, and has serious repercussions to our late life brain health. It’s never too early to start thinking about brain health, and also never too late to try to do something about ensuring brain health later in life.”
Top tips for brain health include:
- Healthy, nutritious meals. Taste tends to decline as we age, and both metabolism and digestion slow down, which can make eating well more challenging than in our younger years. With Chef Samir, however, Kensington residents are in for a delectable experience. Samir derived his passion for cooking from his Moroccan mom, who visited the market every day to procure the best and freshest ingredients for their family. He adopted her talent for making even the simplest dishes flavorful and filled with love, and brings these gifts to serve The Kensington Falls Church now.
- Exercise. Whether you prefer dancing or tai chi, golf or yoga, WAM’s Move for Minds experts describe exercise as the best way to stay mentally sharp as we age. Active bodies and active minds go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whether you want to keep your joints supple, or have more energy, moving your body makes the difference. Dancing, in fact, has been found to be extremely beneficial for older brains: in one study, seniors who danced regularly had a 75 percent lower risk of dementia compared with people who did not dance at all.
- Engagement and enjoyment. Activities and friendships have been shown to reduce stress, preserve wellness, keep the mind sharp, and increase feelings of worth, especially for seniors. The Kensington Fall Church is excited to partner with Famille, a “memory café” that provides residents, family, friends, and the broader Falls Church community with an opportunity to meet, mingle, share ideas and give and receive emotional support in a welcoming setting.
- Sleep! A good night’s sleep helps the recently identified glymphatic system clean our brains of the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
The Last Word
Even if you do not have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s crucial to be aware of the risks, says Maria, because Alzheimer’s can begin developing 20 years or more before symptoms appear. Instead of saying to yourself, “‘I’ll think about that when I’m 65 or 70’, the time to start thinking about Alzheimer’s is when you’re 30 and 40.”
Maria adds, “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.