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Alzheimer’s and Its Impact on Women

Maria Shriver Talks About Her New Report on Alzheimer’s and Caregiving
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 15, 2010 -- It's been a year since Maria Shriver, California's first lady and perhaps its best-known women's advocate, released The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. The landmark study examined how Americans live and work now that mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of U.S. families, and the far-reaching effects of these shifting roles.

This week, the sequel is here: The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's. It focuses on the impact of the Alzheimer's epidemic, talks about cutting-edge research, includes personal essays by celebrities, patients, and caregivers, and reveals the results of a large-scale poll on Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer’s Impact on Women

Maria Shriver and The Alzheimer’s Association have joined together to report on the special impact Alzheimer’s has on women – as caregivers and patients.

The puzzling, frustrating brain disorder now affects 5.3 million Americans and may affect 16 million by 2050. Sixty-five percent of those with Alzheimer's are women, and women are also more likely than men to be caregivers for someone with the disease.

''This is a nationwide epidemic, and women are at the epicenter of it," says Shriver, who was an executive producer for The Alzheimer's Project documentaries that aired last year on HBO.

According to the poll, which gathered information from 3,118 adults nationwide, including more than 500 Alzheimer caregivers:

  • 60% of Alzheimer's caregivers are women.
  • Of those women, 68% report they have emotional stress from caregiving.
  • Nearly half of these 68% rate their stress as a ''5'' on a scale of "1" to "5."
  • 57% of all caregivers, including 2/3 of the women, admit they fear getting Alzheimer's.
  • 4 in 10 caregivers say they had no choice about their new role.

For Shriver, 54, fighting the epidemic is intensely personal. Her father, politician Sargent Shriver, the first leader of the Peace Corps who was also active in his late wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver's Special Olympics, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003. He is now 94.

This week, Shriver talked to WebMD about how far she's come since the diagnosis, the momentous tasks that lie ahead, and her own fear that she, too, will get Alzheimer's.

Q: Can you tell us how the new report came to be?

A: I think I had been researching, studying about Alzheimer's since my dad was diagnosed in 2003. But I did not understand that women were really at the epicenter of it because of looking into it from my father's point of view.

[Then came the HBO documentaries.] More and more women started coming up to me, and saying, "I know you have a dad with Alzheimer's, my mom has Alzheimer's. I'm a caregiver and I'm also working full time. Do you have any ideas? Do you have any ways I can get help?"

So everywhere I went, suddenly someone was caring for an elderly parent. So we focused on Alzheimer's because the caregiving of Alzheimer's is the most time intensive, emotionally intensive and also expensive. ... It's really expensive to have a parent with Alzheimer's. It disrupts your entire family, it changes your life. In the poll, two-thirds of those polled said they had to come Iate to work, change their work schedule, or leave work altogether to care for somebody with Alzheimer's.

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