Alzheimer's Daughter: Maria Shriver Takes on Disease With Second Shriver Report

VIDEO: A Look at Alzheimers Disease
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One of the nation's highest-profile women is taking on one of the nation's highest-profile health problems that have affected her father and more than five million other Americans.

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's is a collaborative research effort by California first lady Maria Shriver and the Alzheimer's Association that calls on society and government leaders to address the needs of patients and caregivers, fund more research into treatment for Alzheimer's and other brain diseases and help people prepare for the possibility of a future Alzheimer's diagnosis. The report's main focus is the impact the disease has on women.

"Alzheimer's is a woman's disease that's dramatically changing the way we live as families," Shriver said. "Sixty percent of people with Alzheimer's are women, and 60 percent of the caretaking is done by women."

Doctors say there's a simple reason more women have Alzheimer's.

"Women outlive men much longer, so there are more women with Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center.

This year's report builds on last year's Shriver Report, A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, that found that about two-thirds of women now have to be their family's breadwinner in addition to being a wife, mother and caretaker for elderly or sick relatives.

"The challenge really has got to be how do we support women in all of these roles? They're strapped and stressed at all ends of the spectrum," she said.

Alzheimer's disease hits close to Shriver's heart. Her father, Sargent Shriver, has had the disease since 2003.

"Today he doesn't know I'm his daughter, and he doesn't even know my name," Shriver wrote in the report.

At the same time she was caring for her father, she also took care of her elderly and ill mother, who died in 2009.

"When I was out doing the women's report, I found many women in my situation -- raising children, working and caring for elderly parents," she said. This isn't the first time Shriver has taken on Alzheimer's -- she produced a documentary and also wrote a book on the disease.

Women Who Are Caregivers Face Staggering Burden

Much of the information in the report comes from the Alzheimer's Association's 2010 Women and Alzheimer's Poll, which involved interviews with more than 3,100 people, including more than 500 caregivers.

According to the poll, 68 percent of women who were caregivers experienced emotional stress, and 51 percent of them said they suffered from physical stress.

Alzheimer's experts praise the report for drawing attention to the challenges caregivers face.

"One of the most interesting things is that often, women actually don't even realize they need the support or that's it's acceptable to get support, because they're so used to caring for children and taking care of other responsibilities," said Mary Sano, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "This additional burden is taken on without even realizing it's going to have an impact on them and everything they do."

"If a woman is providing care, she can't provide for other family members, can't be out in the workforce, etc.," said Kennedy.

The strain on caregivers and their families is just part of the enormous Alzheimer's price tag, and families pay more than 60 percent of it.

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