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Alzheimer’s and Its Impact on Women

Maria Shriver Talks About Her New Report on Alzheimer’s and Caregiving

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I had written already two children's books, one on heaven and one on people with disabilities, and I decided to write one on explaining Alzheimer's to my children and to other young children that I thought would have to come face to face with Alzheimer's. It was a relief to speak about it, because I think it's always a relief to come out from behind what you might think of as a secret or shadow or something that people are thinking but they don't really know.

And then it's been a slow progression. I did The Alzheimer's Project [for HBO] a year ago and that took really two years of work. Now I've done this and I've testified for increased funding for Alzheimer's on the Hill.

Q: Caregivers are already overburdened, but is there something a caregiver can do to help society as a whole deal with Alzheimer's, a small step that wouldn't take much time but would make an impact?

A: I think the first thing caregivers should do is get help for themselves. Join a support group, find out how other people do it. There are caregiver groups all over this nation now.

People need to step in and spell people [who are caregiving]. Let them go exercise. They also need to understand if they aren't in good shape, the person they are caring for won't be in good shape. I think that's very hard for most women, to put themselves front and center.

But what we know is, caregiving is hazardous to your health unless you take care of your health.

I think that women can make their voices heard at the polls. They should be voting for those who have smart family work policies, who understand the changing dynamic of the American family. Less than 20% of families now have a stay-at-home parent, and women are the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families.

So the American family has changed dramatically and we need to understand that women make 80% of the consumer decisions. Women are the economic engine of this country and we are also the political engine. We put people in office and we can take them out.

Q: What keeps you going on this mission?

A: Well, I'm terrified of getting Alzheimer's. And I don't want to put my kids in that place.

I'm fascinated by the brain ... how it works and dominates your life.

I think that to learn about what's being done, to go into these labs, talk to these people studying the brain, and get them to speak in commonsense English, is fascinating.

I'm the latter end of the baby boom generation ... this is our epidemic. We've done all these things to make our lives last longer, but not our brains.

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