In honor of her father, the journalist and first lady of
California shines a light on Alzheimer’s disease
DAUGH TER LOVE Maria with her father, in 2004.
Six years ago Maria Shriver learned that her father, Sargent
Shriver, then 87, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At the
time, Maria says now, she could not have predicted the profound
journey she and her family would make as they tried to under-
stand—and cope with—the devastating disease.
The journalist, author, and mother
of four even wrote a book, What’s
Happening to Grandpa? (Little, Brown,
2004), to help young people make sense
of it all. Today, as an executive producer
of The Alzheimer’s Project, a four-part
documentary (with companion book,
DVD, and website) that airs starting May 10 on HBO, the 53-year-old
Shriver—who is married to Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger—is aiming to
reach a broader audience. Her hope,
she says, is that the series will help “lift
the veil of shame” still associated with
the disease, which afflicts 5 million
Americans, and give viewers the sense
of urgency needed to help find a cure.
Q: Why should more people be concerned about Alzheimer’s? Early-onset numbers are rising. This is a disease that will affect people in their 50s
and 60s. And with Alzheimer’s you are
out of commission on every level. You
need 24-hour-a-day care, but we don’t
have enough caretakers and facilities.
Q: What did this project teach you
that you didn’t already know? I
wasn’t aware of the depth and breadth
of research, how long it’s been going on,
and how many trials had failed. While
that work is hopeful, it’s also daunting.
And there are still a lot of people who
don’t want to talk about the disease. It’s
too painful. That surprises me.
With Herbie”— one
and find resources
Q: How is your dad? He still looks terrific, but he doesn’t know who I am.
Q: How have your children handled
this? My kids have taught me a lot.
They find great joy in talking to my
father. They think it’s fascinating—and
they don’t have the emotional baggage
that I do. When they were younger
they used to asked me, “Is that going to
happen to you?”
Q: Are you afraid of getting Alzheimer’s? You betcha. Bigtime.
Q: What do you do to try to prevent
it? I exercise. I eat a lot of broccoli. I
don’t drink or smoke. I try to stay mentally active. [On the other hand] I don’t
do crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
But my father was the smartest, most
literary, actively intellectual, and engaged human being I’ve ever known,
and he got Alzheimer’s. I try not to
freak out, and I live in the moment.
—Jeanne Dorin McDowell
PHOTOGRAPH: AR T DEPT./CPI SYNDICATION; PAIN TING OF MARIA SHRIVER © 2009 ANDY
WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS/ARTIS TS RIGH TS SOCIE T Y (ARS), NE W YORK