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More than anyone else, women carry the burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Not only are they diagnosed with the disease more often than men, women are usually the primary caregivers when other family members are affected. That’s the focus of California first lady Maria Shriver’s latest research project called The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's, which she produced in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Association.
Shriver’s own father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003. Now 94, Sargent Shriver doesn’t recognize his daughter or know her name. This difficult reality has driven Shriver to become an advocate to struggling families and a crusader for a cure.
According to The Shriver Report, men make up just 35 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Shocking, isn’t it? Though you might be inclined to blame your hormones or some other female chemical, the reason more women get Alzheimer’s is much simpler than that. The more time you spend on this earth, the greater your chances are of getting Alzheimer’s. Though it can strike as early as your early 30s, Alzheimer’s disease predominantly affects the elderly. Because women outlive men, they are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.
Even if they do escape an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, women also cope with being the primary caregiver to their loved ones with the condition. Almost one-third of Americans have a family member with Alzheimer’s. According to Shriver, 60 percent of those caregivers are women. All told, 10 million women in the U.S. are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with it.
Right now, an estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. And because everyone is living longer, not just women, cases are expected to climb, especially as Baby Boomers hit retirement age. Seventy-eight million people make up the Baby Boomer generation, the first of whom will turn 65 next year. By 2050, there could be as many as 16 million people living with the Alzheimer’s.
Shriver hopes that through increased funding and awareness, science will find a way to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. This year, the National Institutes of Health concluded that they could not make specific recommendations on how to lower one’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but believe there are many promising avenues of research.
Still, there is some evidence that certain lifestyle factors may help decrease your risk. Those include getting plenty of exercise, not smoking, staying heart-healthy, avoiding concussions and other head trauma and eating a Mediterranean-style diet. While it’s no guarantee, it’s also a no-brainer. If you want to live a long, healthy life with as few complications as possible, eating well and exercising will never hurt.
Do you know someone who is living with Alzheimer’s? Share your story below.