This month, California First Lady Maria Shriver released a remarkable book on Alzheimer's disease and its disproportionate impact on women, "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's." While "The Shriver Report" sounds technical and does present new academic research, it is accessible and a must read for everyone. Here are five reasons why:
1. Maria Shriver's personal narrative takes you behind the scenes of the disease. There is no better resource than someone who understands the issues firsthand and can share the wisdom of their experiences. As a woman who cared for her father with Alzheimer's while also caring for her ailing mother, Maria understands the issues that families face and delivers comfort to other family caregivers who may feel isolated and helpless by their situation. Her personal narrative also chips away at the stigma that is still attached to Alzheimer's and at the hopelessness of the diagnosis. Maria's story is just one of many presented in the full report. Other stories from well-known figures such as Patti Davis, daughter of President Regan, and from unknown individuals impacted by Alzheimer's combine to paint a powerful portrait that is both emotionally touching and highly informative.
2. Everyone will eventually have to confront this disease. Today, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease and that figure is expected to triple in the coming decades. Aging baby boomers will be a major contributor to the inevitable growth in diagnoses. These statistics presented in the report are convincing evidence that if the disease is not touching your life today, it will at some point in your life. Being prepared for that eventuality will make it much easier to handle when the time comes.
3. Women are particularly vulnerable to the disease's impact. Women constitute about 65 percent of those who suffer from Alzheimer's and are most likely to be the caregiver to those with the disease, according to the report. The report highlights how these unbalanced statistics come at a time when women are just now becoming a majority of the workforce. It also recounts how providing care to a family member often extracts a brutal physical, emotional and financial toll on caregivers. Not just content to identify the problem, "The Shriver Report" then shares inspirational stories of men who are stepping up to become primary caregivers, including Shriver's brothers.
4. It helps start a conversation about Alzheimer's. One of the many consequences of being a caregiver of someone with memory loss is that you often feel overwhelmed and alone. The report's inspirational stories and new revelations act as conversation starters with friends and family. It is sometimes easier to talk about someone else's story than it is to share your own. In a very reader-friendly way, the report also helps explain the disease and its impact to someone who has never had to confront it.
5. There is a call to action. There are several steps everyone can take to help reduce the impact of Alzheimer's disease. New research is taking place and several promising treatments and diagnostic tools are on the horizon. Yet the report highlights how little federal government funds are spent on Alzheimer's versus other diseases. Shriver invites readers to become vocal in a national conversation about Alzheimer's and the need to fund further research. She also calls on more public policy focused on helping family caregivers obtain training, afford professional care and obtain leave from work to manage their caregiving duties. Families are urged to participate in clinical trials found through the Alzheimer's Association's Trialmatch® (www.alz.org/trialmatch). It also calls on helping friends and family who are primary caregivers by offering them assistance -- even one hour once a week can be a godsend.