Maria Shriver Tackles Alzheimer’s

This conversation is “political, personal, professional and for me, it’s also spiritual,’’ she said at the 2022 Century Summit.

Like parents, like daughter.

Maria Shriver, polymath and multi-tasker extraordinaire, has it in the genes, said Karen Breslau, Bloomberg News bureau chief and moderator of Shriver’s appearance at the 2022 Century Summit, held December 13-14. The summit is a collaboration between the  Longevity Project and the Stanford Center on Longevity.

“Both of my parents worked well into their 80s, they worked until they passed away. They traveled the globe giving speeches in their 80s, and they had many friends in their 20s and 30s.

“My mother used to invite people from all sorts of fields, of all ages, to dinner and she’d hand me notes as I was arriving, telling me to read this stuff so I’d be up on the dinner conversation!’’

A lasting impression

Breslau well remembered trying keep up with Shriver’s mother, Eunice Shriver, wife of Sargent Shriver, a founder of the Peace Corps during the administration of John F. Kennedy, his wife’s brother, at an official event in California.

The event was held by the then-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver’s former husband.

“I was running after Mrs. Shriver; I couldn’t keep up,’’ Breslau said.

Maria Shriver, 67, laughed at the image of her mother leaving much younger people behind, despite suffering from strokes later in life. Her father had Alzheimer’s.

Women and Alzheimer’s

Shriver appeared at yesterday’s event to talk about her work with the nonprofit organization she founded, The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. She also spoke about longevity and how older people are perceived in America.

A lifelong broadcast journalist, Shriver has been a special anchor for NBC since 2013; she received two Emmy Awards for producing “The Alzheimer’s Project,’’ and an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences award for that program, cited for developing a “television show with a conscience.”

Earlier this year, she organized a summit on aging in America with the Cleveland Clinic, where she serves as a strategic partner for Women’s Health and Alzheimer’s. WAM partnered with the Cleveland Clinic in February 2022 to become WAM at the Cleveland Clinic.

Reframing the conversation

“I felt that aging needed to be reframed, and NBC, where I work, didn’t want to do the subject, so I went out and found a partner that did, and we had a weeklong summit on radically reframing what aging means.

“Madison Avenue hasn’t caught up; it’s still selling anti-aging creams to 18 year olds! I’ve got nothing against golf but not everybody wants to retire and golf; people want to continue working and reinventing themselves. We want society to catch up.

“We discussed how do you age in place; how do you have a career that lasts; how do you start a new career in your 40s, 50s and 60s, and how can society catch up with the baby boomers, who are really the ones pushing this conversation.’’

Not just about living longer

Shriver said that health has “everything’’ to do with successfully aging and being able to work later in life.

She was tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom two years ago to provide a roadmap for how California needs to change in treating Alzheimer’s disease. The task force was charged with developing recommendations on how communities, organizations, businesses, government and families can prevent and prepare for the rise in the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Two out of three (Alzheimer’s) cases are women.  This means we need caregivers and we don’t have enough.’’

Particularly urgent, Shriver said, is stepped-up attention to and research into women’s health needs.  In 2010, she partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association on “Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s’’ that challenged the notion that women outnumbered men in cases because they tended to live longer. Science and medicine now acknowledge that women often develop Alzheimer’s for reasons involving sex, gender and other factors specific to their lives.

“We know that we need to focus on women’s brain health, about what is happening in women’s lives, with menopause and the many physical changes women go through. With those changes are brain changes, so we need research into understanding that. Women’s health differs from that of men’s and we need to catch up in medical research.’’

It takes a village

At the WAM summit, Shriver said the conversation also focused on how cities can modernize so people can stay living in place, and what has to happen in geriatric medicine and social services for families to care for loved ones who want to age in place.

She said that data says that workplaces are better off when older and younger generations work together, a concept embraced by her parents, who had many friends many decades younger.

Shriver said this conversation is, “political, personal, professional and for me, it’s also spiritual.’’

Her father (1915-2011) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003 and died eight years later. She became an advocate for education and research into the disease through her work as a journalist. Her mother (1921-2009), the founder of the Special Olympics, was still making speeches the year before her death.

Maria, who spoke in energetic, paragraph-long comments, said she’d just had dinner with the architect Frank Gehry.

“He’s 95, at the top of his game. People like him and Warren Buffett are changing the conversation about age. People I speak to, in their 50s and 60s, they want to work, try new things. I raised my kids, was caretaker to my parents and now it’s my time to go out and do something. I don’t have to check my watch at 3 to pick up the kids at school. I’m free!’

But too many employers don’t see their older workers as “valuable players,’’ she said.

“We need a sea change in the narrative; the boomers have changed so many things, and we will reframe what it means to age, and to age well.’’

Role models on aging

She said she’s the oldest person in the various offices where she works, and that she has worked on projects with her children — she has two daughters and two sons from her marriage to Schwarzenegger. With her daughter, Christina, she founded Shriver Media, which produced a documentary, “Take Your Pills.’’ Shriver was an executive producer of the 2014 film about a woman with Alzheimer’s, “Still Alice.’’

“I love working with my children; my parents did a lot of that. My younger brother, Tim (Shriver), still works with Special Olympics. People look to their parents and grandparents for role modeling in how to age.

“My parents worked to change the world and they had deep faith. They prioritized their family, their faith; they walked a lot — they walked with a vengeance — and they lived with a mission, purpose. I am emulating what they did.’’

Once, her mother was speaking at a women’s conference, and she told the audience, “If you don’t have a family, go out and find one; borrow someone else’s family.’’

The former First Lady of California, Shriver feels comfortable meeting and learning from new people.

“I invite people over to Sunday dinner all the time.  I encourage my children to bring their bosses and who they are working with to dinner. I say “Bring anybody you want to this table, just let me know by 2 what the numbers are!’’

From seed grants of $4 million, more than $83 million has been invested into researching the causes of Alzheimer’s disease in women. More information is available from www.thewomensalzheimersmovement.org.

In a four-decade career in journalism, Eleanor O’Sullivan has reviewed many books on best practices for financial advisors, has written for Financial Advisor and the USA Today network, and was the movie critic for the Asbury Park Press.

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