8 Simple Ways Maria Shriver Is Taking Care of Her Brain Health for Alzheimer’s Prevention

As the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, Maria Shriver has been raising awareness about brain health for decades, ever since her father was diagnosed in 2003. And — as you might guess from the name of her organization — the journalist is especially passionate about women and Alzheimer’s, a crucial but once-overlooked conversation, as almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, per the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Now we’re in a new era of women’s health, and women… are front and center not just in Alzheimer’s, but in many other diseases,” Shriver told Flow Space Editor-in-Chief Galina Espinoza, reflecting on what has changed in the brain health conversation over the last 20 years. “It’s a hopeful space,” she adds, recognizing the hard work of many other researchers and advocates like herself. “I see the result of 20 years of hard work, and the importance of staying at something and sitting through it when it doesn’t feel really hopeful, and then recognizing, wow, you know, all of these years add up.”

Shriver’s father, Robert “Sargent” Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003 when Maria was in her 40s. Sargent was “the smartest human being I had ever met,” Shriver told KTLA in 2023, so when the devastating diagnosis came, the journalist tapped into her investigative side. “I wanted to learn everything I could about how a brain that smart could actually disintegrate like that in real-time,” she said.

A major part of that was bringing women into the conversation, which Shriver continues to prioritize as the Chief Visionary and Strategic Advisor for the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention and Research Center at the Cleveland Clinic, described as the first-ever Alzheimer’s prevention center focused solely on women. She also talks up the Women’s Health Initiative, a presidential executive order calling on Congress to invest $12 billion to create a women’s health research fund at the National Institutes of Health. “[We’ve] never had a presidential executive order on women’s health,” Shriver points out.

Of course, Shriver has also made brain health a priority in her own life, including lifestyle changes that involve exercise, sleep, and diet. “I’ve done a brain scan,” Shriver says. “I kind of prioritize my sleep. I prioritize exercise. I try to do the best I can when it comes to stress… maintaining the structured lifestyle the best I can. I pay attention to sugar, I pay attention to my cholesterol numbers.”

It won’t surprise you to hear that Shriver’s strategies are backed by science. A 2013 study found that people at genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s could reduce their likelihood of developing the disease by getting better sleep, while research from Harvard in 2021 noted that people who slept less than five hours a night were twice as likely to develop dementia.

As for exercise, one meta-analysis found that regular exercise lowered the risk of dementia by 28 percent and the risk of Alzheimer’s by a whopping 45 percent. And while the National Institute on Aging notes that “more research is needed… to determine if what we eat can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s,” it adds that “many studies suggest that what we eat affects the aging brain’s ability to think or remember.” The Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet (a combination of the Mediterranean diet and anti-hypertension DASH diet) may both hold benefits for cognitive health; both diets include lots of vegetables, berries, whole grains, beans, and fish while limiting foods like red meat, sweets, cheese, and butter.

And it’s worth making those lifestyle changes because research has found that up to 40 percent of dementia cases are preventable when risk factors are reduced or eliminated altogether.

For Shriver, it’s about making brain health a part of her life. She’s spoken in the past with Parade about taking part in other brain-healthy habits, like meditating — “I make sure that I have at least an hour and a half of silence in the morning where I don’t have a phone or any outside influences — working out with weights, improving her balance, and staying on top of her doctor’s appointments.

And of course, she’ll continue to put brain health on everyone else’s radar, too. “Other people don’t have the resources I have, and [living with Alzheimer’s] is really hard,” she says. “But I can do something about this to make it better for other people. And that’s why I get up and do [it], because … I can use my voice in a productive way.”

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