A Conversation with Maria Shriver: First Lady of Alzheimer’s Awareness
You may know Maria Shriver as an award-winning journalist, the former First Lady of California, and a member of the Kennedy clan. But you might not be aware of her 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.
Shriver subsequently wrote a children’s book to explain Alzheimer’s disease to children whose grandparents were experiencing memory loss, produced a documentary series on the subject, and testified before Congress in support of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. Yet she didn’t stop there.
She began to hear from women whose mothers had Alzheimer’s, in disproportionate numbers — almost two out of three 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.
KSL partner and Redondo Beach Executive Director Tanya Walker Wirth welcomed over 350 guests from the community to this event, and The Kensington’s Chef Kieran Harrington prepared a delicious feast for the special event, along with a number of other Kensington team members from our five other Kensington Senior Living Community locations throughout the country — several of whom came from as far away as the East coast to be part of an extraordinary dialogue.
The evening began with a “sound bath” led by Jeralyn Glass, to help everyone relax, become fully present, and attune with deep receptivity to the wealth of information about to be shared.
We’re very grateful for the 12 sponsors who generously supported our event 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.
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 people.
But while the focus on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s has accelerated, there hasn’t been a concomitant 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.
“WAM has absolutely been imperative to help us press the fast-forward button on Alzheimer’s research,” says Richard Isaacson, MD, who is on the WAM science advisory council. “We’re going to beat this disease. We’re going to protect our brains, we’re going to figure out why this happens, and we’re going to intervene early. That’s the future of Alzheimer’s,” he asserts.
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 or contribute to a decline in memory and overall cognitive health. Infections such as a UTI may mimic memory loss, and dehydration, common in older adults, can cause confusion that may also appear to be the beginning of dementia.
A poor diet, lack of exercise, substance abuse and other pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, also affect memory. So starting with what we can control makes a huge difference in cognitive health, according to Shriver and the neuroscientists who participated in our conversation.
Top tips for brain health include:
- Healthy, nutritious meals, such as those Chef Kieran prepares at The Kensington Redondo Beach, where the atmosphere, presentation and service is as important to us as the excellent cuisine. We want our residents to feel they’re dining in a 5-star restaurant every day. We also invite Kensington families and friends to join us any time they’d like, at no additional cost! We highly encourage togetherness and time to connect.
- Exercise, which WAM’s Move for Minds experts describe as the best way to stay mentally sharp as we age. Whether you love golf or yoga, tai chi or dancing, getting your body moving in new ways will help your brain as much as your body.
- 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.
- Support from friends, family members, and those who take a positive approach to brain health. Loneliness and isolation in old age is as detrimental as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Driving and Dementia
Kensington friend and Alzheimer’s and dementia placement specialist Lisa Bricker, who leads the Alzheimer’s and dementia care support group at The Kensington Sierra Madre, is also a caregiver for her husband Gary, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 63. Lisa spoke poignantly about how it took over five years for him to be diagnosed, during which time he lost two jobs as an attorney, and the couple moved four times.
She related how there is Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia on both sides of her family, and Gary has none. She says, “This disease knows no boundaries, and no limits.” About six years ago Lisa had to call 911 on herself due to stress and heart palpitations. She was hospitalized for two nights, and the cardiologist said, “Next time you may not be so lucky. You need to make some changes.” That was her wake-up call. Her mission and passion is to share her stories, so others realize they’re not alone on their journey.
On October 17th, Lisa spoke at The Kensington Redondo Beach about driving and dementia. As someone who understands the dementia journey firsthand, she brought wisdom and compassion to the challenging topic of what to do when a loved one who is experiencing memory impairment still gets behind the wheel.
The ability of senior adults to retain their independence and preserve dignity are among the most difficult challenges to face when it comes to safety on the road and risk of liability.
The Last Word
Alzheimer’s research is still in its infancy, notes UC Irvine Institute neuroscientist Josh Grill. “Modern Alzheimer’s research is only a couple of decades old, whereas we’ve been studying cardiovascular disease and cancer for 100-plus years. So we’re learning at a remarkably accelerated rate. I’m utterly hopeful about where we are as a field.”
Even if you do not have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s essential to be aware of the risks, says Maria, because Alzheimer’s can begin developing 20 years or more 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.