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Importance of Identifying Alzheimer Disease Early

When asked what drives her to continue the fight to find the cure to Alzheimer disease, Maria Shriver stated simply, “I don’t want to lose my mind” to attendees of the Asembia 2019 Specialty Pharmacy Summit in a keynote conversation. 

“Every 60 seconds, a new brain is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and two-thirds of these are women and no one knows why. We need to get angry. We need to get motivated and we need to start asking questions,” said Ms Shriver. 

In addition to being the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, Ms Shriver is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, author, and NBC News special anchor. 

When Ms Shriver’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer in 2003, she wrote a book called, What’s Happening to Grandpa? as a way to help teach children what the disease entailed and it also shed light on what life as a caregiver is like. 

“Sixty-five million Americans are caregivers. If you’re not one now, you’re going to be. Caregivers need time off from work, support, and resources to understand how to cope with their lifestyle,” explained Ms Shriver. “We are an aging country, so more and more people will be finding themselves in this caregiver role and we need to learn how to manage it financially, spiritually, and emotionally. Ms Shriver believes that understanding how to be a caregiver is the important task of fighting this disease before it has a chance to alter your life and the diagnoses disparity between men and women is the place to start. 

“We need to study the differences between health care and women’s health care,” stated Ms Shriver. “Two-thirds of Alzheimer diagnoses are women and I believe the answer is out there.” 

Ms Shriver went on to explain that many studies that research the disease focus on patients who are already presenting symptoms, patients in later stages of life. 

“Alzheimer is 20 years in your brain before it is symptomatic and we should be studying women and men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because the disease already exists,” stressed Ms Shriver, noting that if we are studying those who carry the genes, we might be closer to finding a cure before a patient even presents as symptomatic. 

“Education is key. My hope is that we start to educate younger people about the disease and they in turn want to join the fight to find a cure,” said Ms Shriver. “I have to be optimistic and the truth is that I am because there are so many people in this space now and who ever figures this out is going to be a global hero.” 

She called for increased NIH funding and more clinical trials that focus on the younger populations so that the disease can be caught early. 

Ms Shriver stressed that women need to be at the forefront of this research, “I like to joke and say, ‘If we focused on our brains as much as our lips, our eyes, and our thighs we’d be able to figure this out.’”—Edan Stanley 

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