As a writer for the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, I've been privileged to meet some great women like Elizabeth Edwards and Maria Shriver. Last week I had the opportunity to interact with Maria Shriver again on a conference call as she spoke about her latest undertaking, The Alzheimer's Project, a 4-part documentary that premiered on HBO last night. The mini-series aims to educate people about the true face of Alzheimer's disease
The subject is close to Maria's heart as her father, Sarge Shriver, suffers from Alzheimer's. She has written a book on how to talk to children whose grandparents are suffering from the disease, "What's happening to Grandpa?". She's an executive producer of this series and she's narrating the second part (airing tonight on HBO at 7:30PM), "Grandpa, do you know Who I Am?".
As usual, Maria was warm and friendly, answering all our questions with clarity and passion. Here are some excerpts from the conversation (or as much as I could scribble of it with the kids screaming and running around in the next room):
Q: As mothers choose to have children later in life, does this affect their chances of getting the disease? Does this have anything to do with the link between Down's Syndrome and Alzheimers?
A: There does not appear to be a relation between Alzheimer's and having kids at a later age, but there is a link between Down's Syndrome and Alzheimers. The documentary does not cover this topic, but if this is a concern, then you should do some research (try the Alzheimer's Association) and speak with your healthcare provider.
Q: Is there a genetic or hereditary link for Alzheimer's? What is the science behind the predictability of this disease?
A: There are so many factors, but there is a genetic link for early onset of the disease. If you have a parent who had Alzheimer's at an early age, go to your doctor and ask for an expert in dementia, say you have a family history of early onset Alzheimer's and ask about testing for genes or markers for Alzheimer's.
Q: Bloggers have become a force in the media. What can we as bloggers do to bring more attention and funding to the issue?
A: We can lobby local representatives, congressmen and senators to allocate more research money to the issue. We can join Alzheimer's support groups. We can share our stories and put a young face to the disease -- because make no mistake about it, this is a young person's disease. Alzheimer's affects everyone in a family, with respect to the lifestyle changes and costs associated with the disease. Seventy percent of Alzheimer's patients are cared for at home, and 70% of caregivers are women, often providing unpaid care. Together we can drive the pressure to find a cure.
Maria has inspired many of the writers of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog to write about the Alzheimer's Project and their own personal experiences with Alzheimer's. You can read their stories here. And I'll definitely be watching tonight's episode!