Niece of a president. Daughter of Eunice Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics. Former First Lady of California. Award-winning journalist. Maria Shriver comes from a legacy of service. But you might not be aware of her greatest service commitment: passionate Alzheimer’s awareness advocate. Her Alzheimer’s research and advocacy began when her father, Sargent Shriver (founding director of the Peace Corps, and founder of Jobs 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 are 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-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. Kensington Senior Living partner and Redondo Beach Executive Director Tanya Walker Wirth welcomed everyone to the event.
The Kensington Sierra Madre Executive Director Cecilia “CC” DeGraff and many team members, including Chef Dusko, participated — as did other Kensington team members from our senior living communities throughout the country, several traveling from as far away as the East coast to be part of this extraordinary dialogue.
As record numbers of us grow older in America and globally, learning what we can do to improve brain health is more crucial than ever. We’re very 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.
Why Alzheimer’s Research and Advocacy Is Crucial Now
Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds. Currently, more than 5.8 million people have Alzheimer’s in the United States. 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.
Smart Strategies to Avert Alzheimer’s
Although there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of factors that can either help to slow memory decline — or contribute to poor cognitive health.
Some of the memory loss “mimics” include: 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, according to Shriver and the neuroscientists who participated in our conversation.
Top tips for brain health include:
- Healthy, nutritious meals, such as those Chef Dusko prepares at The Kensington Sierra Madre. This passionate “foodie” knows how to feed senior brains to keep them sharp. In fact, what we eat is so important for mental well being it even has a name now: “neuro-nutrition.” The best brain foods include: avocados, blueberries, walnuts, bananas, and beets. It’s especially important for older adults to eat foods prepared to meet their nutritional needs, because metabolism and digestion both slow down as we age, and awareness of thirst also decreases, so it’s easy to become dehydrated.
- Exercise,which WAM’s Move for Minds experts describe as the best way to stay mentally sharp as we age. It makes sense: active bodies require active minds. Whether you love golf or yoga, tai chi or dancing, getting your body in new ways will help your brain as well as your body. Dancing, especially, has been found to be extremely beneficial to 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, something our Life Enrichment coordinators maximize with an ever-evolving calendar of events that can keep Kensington residents active from morning till evening
- Sleep! A good night’s sleep supports the recently identified glymphatic system in cleaning our brains of the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s, says neuroscientist Josh Grill.
Women, especially, should ask their doctor for a baseline cognitive test.
“Most women I talk to say, ‘I got a mammogram and a pap smear, I’m good,'” says Maria Shriver. “Their doctors are not asking them, ‘How is your cognitive health? Would you like to take a cognitive baseline test?’”
A brain health check should be “just like a blood pressure check,” affirms neuroscientist Freddi Segal-Gidan. “A cognitive baseline test can be as simple as asking somebody to draw a clock and remember three words. Or asking, ‘Tell me what you do during your day.’ If they can’t tell you what they do during their day, maybe they’re having problems remembering.
“Also, Medicare requires an annual Wellness Exam, and it is supposed to include a cognitive assessment. You can remind the doctor, ‘What about my brain?'”
The Last Word
Even if you do not have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s imperative 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.