There’s a New Sexist in Town

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BOSTON – “I’m here because Alzheimer’s discriminates against women,” Maria Shriver said in her opening remarks at the Brain Health Fair on Friday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The 61-year-old former first lady of California and NBC correspondent has been raising awareness about the fatal neurological disease since her father was diagnosed with it in 2003. He died in 2011.

Despite it being her father that suffered from Alzheimer’s, much of the work Shriver has done focuses on women, who are disproportionately affected by the disease. She founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, dedicated to researching Alzheimer’s, and why two-thirds of those diagnosed are women. “If women spent as much time thinking about their brains as we do about our fashion, our lips, eyes, and thighs, then we might be able to beat this thing,” Shriver told her audience, a crowd including
doctors, researchers, caregivers, and patients.

Dr. Reisa Sperling, who was one of two neurologists to join Shriver onstage after her address, is a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, and a member of Harvard’s cutting edge Aging Brain Study. While she recommends seeking out clinical trials for those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Sperling is quick to point out that there are several steps that can help make the brain more resilient to
prevent the disease. “The idea is to make the brain as resilient as possible … A lot of people think that means crosswords and sudokus. Those are too isolating. I recommend something that combines mental and physical exertion as well as social engagement. I suggest to all my patients that they take up ballroom dancing.”

Sperling has taken her own advice. As she told New Boston Post, she has recently joined a jazz dance class in Brookline. “I’m not the oldest in the class, at least,” she said with a laugh.

Nutrition is also a key factor in brain health. According to the doctors on stage, there is no magic food that prevents Alzheimer’s, but the combination of fish, nuts, and dark vegetables is a good place
to start. And as Shriver pointed out, don’t be afraid of healthy fats. They’re good for your brain.

Dancing anecdotes and fish recipes aside, the heart of the speakers’ message was that when it comes to Alzheimer’s, women can’t afford to do nothing. “Women are at the center of a family’s health,” Shriver said as she concluded the discussion. “If you’re not there to take care of it, no
one else will.”

The Brain Health Fair is hosted by the American Academy of Neurology, which is holding its 69th annual meeting this year in Boston. The meeting officially kicks off Saturday, April 22 and lasts through next Friday, April 28.