She’s Fighting Against Alzheimer’s — And You Can Too

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When Maria Shriver’s father, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it was one of the most difficult experiences for the author and journalist. It led Shriver to become an activist, advocating for more research and treatments for the disease.   

“My father always had such a sharp mind,” Shriver tells CircleAround. “He was articulate, witty, and brilliant. [...] The first time I walked into the room and had to tell my father that I was his daughter, Maria, was painful,” she explains. “It still makes me cry when I think of it.”

Shriver knew her father's story of Alzheimer's was one of many. In fact, 5.8 million Americans have the disease and related dementias, according to the CDC. Shriver made it her mission to create greater awareness of Alzheimer’s, and to ensure work was being done to support those who are impacted. 

Fighting Alzheimer's on the Front Lines

Shriver has participated in speaking engagements and taken writing opportunities to educate the public about the disease. She’s even testified before Congress — twice. She is the founder of The Women's Alzheimer's Movement, an organization that raises awareness around women's brain health, and provides funding and support for women-based Alzheimer's research.

“This disease affects a disproportionate number of women,” Shriver tells CircleAround. According to the organization’s website, previous thinking was that the higher incidence of Alzheimer’s in women simply reflected the fact that women tend to outlive men. This was believed as long as up to a decade ago. 

Contrary to that belief, however, researchers discovered that “two out of every three brains that develop Alzheimer’s belong to women — with women of color at even higher risk.” Additionally, two out of three caregivers of all races and ethnicities are women as well.

Shriver’s organization is now a Strategic Partner for Women's Health and Alzheimer's with the Cleveland Clinic's first Alzheimer's Movement Prevention Center. “We're committed to researching and understanding the connections between women's lives and their brain health overall,” she adds.

The Link Between Brain Health and Longevity 

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, or any number of age-related cognitive disorders. But there are some lifestyle changes that can help maximize a brain's potential and reduce the risk of these diseases.

“Along with regular exercise and good habits, the foods we eat significantly influence our brain health,” Shriver tells CircleAround. “Brain-boosting foods, including fatty fish, blueberries, broccoli, dark chocolate, and coffee, are excellent choices for brain health.” 

For that reason, Shriver created MOSH with her son Patrick Schwarzenegger. MOSH is a line of healthy snacks that boost brain power, selling protein bars with such ingredients as Lion's Mane, Ashwagandha, MCT Oil, Omega-3's, and Vitamin B12. 

MOSH products are not a treatment or preventative measure for any brain disease. “The real key is tying in what you eat with your goals,” Shriver explains. “Having the mindset of ‘I'm going to eat this because it's good for my brain, so I can live longer and be cognitively sound to see and interact with my grandchildren,’ is a great way to start.” 

4 Ways to Support People With Neurodegenerative Diseases 

1Be an Active Listener

“Active listening shows someone that we've listened to them and fully comprehend what they are getting across,” Shriver explains. “Be sure to look at them directly, and maintain eye contact. Slow the pace of the conversation, and allow for pauses as they process information and frame their thoughts. Give them plenty of time to respond without interruption.” 

2Play to Their Strengths

“When it comes time to give your advice, do so in a way that doesn't sound like you are telling them what to do,” Shriver states. “We all deserve to believe our best days are in front of us. And with that comes our continued need for choice and control. Look for a way to apply what they've always been good at to the current situation.”

3Lean on Resources for More Education and Support

If you need additional support and education on how to care for a person with a neurodegenerative disease, there are many resources available. Another journalist and advocate for age-related cognitive decline research is Joan Lunden, who struggled to find appropriate solutions when her 87-year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia.  

“I got thrown into having to find senior living care and I didn’t know anything about it,” Lunden says in an interview for PEOPLE.  “As I went stumbling along down this path of becoming a caregiver, I just said to myself it shouldn’t have to be this hard… Had I educated myself first it could have been much easier.”

A Place for Mom provided those resources for her and thousands of others who swiftly take on the role of caregiver. Lunden notes that A Place for Mom offers tips and advice, assists with families who need to ask tough questions, and gets them the help they need.

Lunden is now a spokesperson for the organization, knowing how vital it is to have support when you’re trying to support others. “It’s not a natural feeling to become the parent to your parent because those are not the roles you’ve known your whole life,” she elaborates in the interview. She emphasizes that the earlier you ask these questions and get answers, the easier the process will be when a new transition begins.

4Consider What Caregivers Need

It’s great to support someone navigating age-related cognitive decline, but sometimes it can be even more helpful to provide support to that person’s caregiver. 

“Many people don't realize just how demanding and stressful it is to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's,” Shriver tells CircleAround. “While Alzheimer's is a mind-blowing disease to the person who gets it, it's also mind-blowing to the entire family and everybody who knows that person. For the person who's in the role of caregiver, it's mind and body crushing.”

It can be as big as providing opportunities for caregivers to reduce their stress, or as simple as saying, “I’m here, and I’m listening,” when they need a shoulder to cry on

The Bottom Line

The more we learn about diseases like Alzheimer’s, the better we can offer support and care for those who are impacted. People like Shriver are making a real difference through advocacy work, and we can all learn a little bit from her on how we can get involved, too. 

To read more about MOSH, please click here

Tags: Mental Health, women's health

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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