Saturday, May 11, 2013
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Alzheimer's series a learning tool for Shriver
In "The Alzheimer's Project," executive producer Maria Shriver shares on camera that her father, Sargent Shriver, 93, no longer recognizes her.
"You want them to be that person you looked up to who knew the answer to everything," Shriver, 52, said during a conference call last week. She added that she takes cues from her children to deal with the pain and frustration.
"My children will always be like, 'Just talk to Grandpa, just go with whatever he is saying, don't try to correct him, don't get mad, it's not him. Just laugh with him or just accept him, or be patient with him.' "
Shriver, California's first lady, was promoting the HBO series that premieres this weekend. Her answers below are edited for length and clarity.
Q: In the last few years, there have been some advances in research toward Alzheimer's, including predictive genetic testing. Through your experience with your father, has it led you to take such a test?
A: No. I have not taken a test in particular to see if I have Alzheimer's or I'm predisposed to it. I try to follow some of the recommendations to keep myself mentally active. I think one of the things that comes out of this "Alzheimer's Project" is that your cardiovascular health is directly related to your brain health and if anything comes out of this, I hope it will also be to Baby Boomers to not just focus on keeping your body in shape, but you can keep your brain in shape by how you keep your body in shape. It's just not just about crossword puzzles.
But I think there is really nothing that is going to help us unless we find a cure. I think that's where I'm going to concentrate my efforts. My efforts have been in writing a book, being the executive producer of the special, testifying in front of the Congress, and trying to work with the Alzheimer's Study Group to perhaps bring attention and a sense of urgency to the research in funding Alzheimer's. I find that that might be a better use of my time than to go and get this test and find out if I might get Alzheimer's because that would really scare the daylights out of me. And I don't know what really productive, frankly, would come of it.
Q: How do you think this will impact Baby Boomers?
A: As Baby Boomers age they become more susceptible to getting Alzheimer's, and so many Baby Boomers I know are having to quit jobs, having to move home to care for their own parents. That's why I think that this is the Baby Boomer epidemic. This is an epidemic that Baby Boomers have to realize is their epidemic, to try to find a cure for. Otherwise it's going to ravage the Baby Boomer generation. Not only mentally but physically, spiritually, financially, and that's why I think that it used to be five or six years ago that people just looked at Alzheimer's and said that's an old person's disease, it's not about me, it's not going to happen to me.
Q: Can you talk about what you have learned from children with how they approach Alzheimer's? Their perspective?
A: I've learned from my own children to be much more in the moment, to accept the person for who they are, not for who they want them to be or who you remember them to be. My own children have taught me a lot about just trying to - let me just say also they obviously don't have all the emotional entanglements that a child has when it's a parent, so they can address it in a different way - but I think you can learn from them that to accept the person that's sitting in front of you as opposed to wanting that person to be the person they used to be. I think many children, and I say children whether you be 50, 40 or whatever, you are still a child of that person, you want that person to be the parent that they used to be.
Q: As a former journalist, how was it different for you to report on a topic that is so close to home and so personal for you?
A: Well, no different, believe it or not. In many of the stories that I covered, I felt I had some kind of understanding of the subject. Being an executive producer was a different role for me, from being the reporter and the writer and being involved in the editing and all that sort of stuff.
But I didn't feel like, oh, maybe I'm not objective - I didn't feel any of that. I was really interested because there was a lot of the science that I did not know. I didn't know the depth of the clinical trials, the breadth of the clinical trials. I didn't know all the doctors that have been working so tirelessly for so long. I knew a lot about what it's like to live with someone with Alzheimer's and I knew a lot about caretaking. One of the things I love so much about being a reporter is that even if you think you know something, you're constantly learning what you don't know. So for me the big difference here wasn't in the subject matter, it was in the role, actually.