According to The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), “every 65 seconds, a new brain develops Alzheimer’s. Two-thirds of them belong to women”.
The nonprofit organization focuses its work on informing women about their increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease; advocates the importance of taking control of their cognitive health, which is the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember; and raises funds for gender-based Alzheimer’s research.
Maria Shriver, Alzheimer’s advocate and founder of WAM, says “Whether it’s your heart, diabetes, anxiety, mental health, women’s health needs to be spoken of in a broader, holistic way,”. The devastating way this brain disease affects women requires resources to focus research on women’s brains to understand why Alzheimer’s is more widespread in the female population. Furthermore, the narrative about the disease must clarify that Alzheimer’s isn’t just a consequence of the aging process but a condition that requires serious consideration being given to brain health. “Women advocating for women’s health, being educated themselves, understanding that they have a heart and a brain in addition to breasts and a vagina, is important.” says Shriver.
The ground-breaking publication, “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s,” which was developed by Shriver in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, was the first to report that Alzheimer’s disproportionately affects women. In an article written by Shriver in 2010 she said, “My hope is that this Shriver Report triggers another Alzheimer’s Turning Point and gets the national conversation focused on this disease and its ramifications. It’s time. We must face up to some big questions:…with the incidence of Alzheimer’s growing, what’s going to happen to our women, our families, our workplaces, our attitudes, our society, as the Alzheimer wave hits over the next few decades? We’re talking crisis.”.
Shriver works diligently to inform men and women of the importance of educating themselves about lifestyle adjustments they can currently make to improve their brain health, as well as what is required to survive and thrive. She has said, “This is a disease that is in your brain 20 years before you are symptomatic” and “you’re never too young to start thinking about your brain health”.
Since its foundation, WAM has awarded numerous women-based Alzheimer’s research grants across the United States; provided support to caregivers with respite grants to support relief services that include in-home aides, companion care, overnight respite that gives caregivers needed free time; individuals with dementia receiving supervision and organized groups of civil society are allocated additional funding to service their communities. Furthermore, WAM is a significant digital resource for women and those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s where they can share their stories.
Shiver gave voice to Alzheimer’s Disease by stepping into the spotlight and sharing the story about her father, Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps founder and influential civil servant, who in 2003 at the age of 87 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and who died in 2011.
During a 2009 interview, Shriver said that her father no longer recognized her.
“I introduce myself to him every time I go visit him,” she said. “I say, ‘Hi Daddy. I’m Maria, and I’m your daughter.’ And he says, ‘You are. Oh, my goodness. That’s so great. Glad to meet you.”
“It teaches you … to live in the moment, to accept the person who’s sitting right in front of you, and to stop wishing that some things were different,” she said.
Advocacy is critical to continue enhancing research to find a cure and eliminate Alzheimer’s. And Maria Shriver’s example should encourage everyone to get involved and diligently support initiatives that educate on the impact Alzheimer’s has on women.
To learn more about The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement visit: