California's first lady shares the pain of Alzheimer's disease

By Joey Bartolomeo
May 06, 2009 10:30 AM
David Livingston/Getty

Maria Shriver may be part of the powerful Kennedy clan – and married to California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – but she doesn’t want anyone to think her life is absolutely perfect.

“I don’t have it all together … the road is bumpy, and I don’t have any shame in sharing that,” the mother of four, 53, tells Lynn Sherr for The Daily Beast. “I find that people are so grateful that you say, ‘Well, I’m having a very difficult time with my parents getting older.’ Or, ‘My parents are struggling and I’m struggling, too.’ ”

It’s true: Shriver’s 87-year-old mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, has had several strokes, and her father, Sargent Shriver, 93, has Alzheimer’s disease. “I would say I’ve had a character transformation with both of my parents,” she says.

Her experience with her father’s disease, in fact, led her to co-executive produce a four-part HBO series, The Alzheimer’s Project, which premieres Sunday.

“I think anybody in their 50s or 60s or 70s should be concerned that they’re going to get Alzheimer’s, whether you have a loved one with it or not,” she says. “Everybody should be terrified.”

Shriver tries to stay healthy by exercising and eating right – “I try to be conscious of what I eat for my heart, with the idea that what’s in my heart can go to my brain” – but she admits to some weaknesses. “I like cookies, any cookie you put in front of me – animal cookies, sugar cookies, anything crunchy.”

While she hopes Congress will begin to focus attention on brain research, Shriver doesn’t plan on following her uncles, cousins, or husband into politics. She says, “That’s not who I am, at this point in my life.”