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Maria Shriver Channels the Warrior Spirit In Houston Alzheimer’s Evening of Hope

Life Saving Research and Care Gets a $640,000 Boost

BY // 04.26.23
photography Quy Tran

When Phoebe Tudor and Kelli Weinzierl agreed to co-chair the first-ever nighttime gala for the Alzheimer’s Association in Houston, they decided to accentuate the positive, with an emphasis on the latest in treatment and prevention of the devastating disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

“We didn’t want it to be a downer,” Tudor says. “Because there’s a lot of hope.”

They enlisted top experts in the field, including Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and well-known journalist, author and former first lady of California Maria Shriver to give gala attendees a crash course on the progress being made in combatting the disease.

“When we got Maria Shriver as speaker, we knew it was going to be really good,” Tudor recalls.

Shriver kept the audience of more than 300 at The Corinthian riveted during an onstage interview conducted by Dr. Laura Baker, a Rice University graduate who now serves as associate director of the Wake Forest Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in North Carolina.

Shriver, who was a hands-on caregiver when her father Sargent Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003 until his death in 2011, has made studying the disease her priority. She founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Strategic Advisor on Women’s Health and Alzheimer’s at Cleveland Clinic. In 2010, “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s” in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, publicly reported for the first time that two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses are women.

“This really is the defining issue of our time,” Shriver says. “We are an aging country and Alzheimer’s is an aging disease.”

Maria Shriver at the Alzheimer's Association Evening of Hope (Photo by Quy Tran)
Maria Shriver at the Alzheimer’s Association Evening of Hope (Photo by Quy Tran)

While the disease continues to alter the lives of not only the people with disease but the family members who care for them, with virtually no government support, Shriver emphasized the importance of being proactive rather than give in to a feeling of hopelessness.

“Part of what I advocate is for people to go from being Alzheimer’s and dementia worriers to Alzheimer’s and dementia warriors,” she says. “Being a warrior is feeling like you’re in charge or you’re empowered. People are scared, but they can take their fear and turn it around, (saying) ‘OK, that’s where we are. What can I do to try and make a difference? ‘

“You have to start small. Everybody has to have an inaugural something. I came to this because it was an inaugural event because I know how hard it is to start.”

She pointed to new research showing that 40 percent of Alzheimer’s cases may be preventable through lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise. “That is huge,” Shriver says.

Alz Assoc Evening of Hope, Soraya McClelland, Scott McClelland and Emily Keeton (R-L) (Photo by Quy Tran)
Soraya McClelland, Scott McClelland, Emily Keeton at the Alzheimer’s Association Evening of Hope (Photo by Quy Tran)

Much of the new research is taking place at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, with a two-year clinical trial evaluating whether lifestyle interventions can protect cognitive function in older adults.

Shriver also spoke poignantly about dealing with her father’s fight against Alzheimer’s. “Once I stopped trying to make my father what he used to be and then just accepting who he was, my journey changed,” she says.

Tudor and Weinzierl dedicated the evening to their mothers, both of who died of Alzheimer’s. The gala raised more than $640,000 for Alzheimer’s and dementia care, support and research.

PC Seen: Frank Billingsley, who emceed the evening and shared personal stories about family members with Alzheimer’s, Soraya and Scott McClelland, Donna and Norman Lewis, Hallie Vanderhider and Bobby Dees, Vivian Wise, Fady Armanious and Bill Baldwin, Bobby Tudor, John Weinzierl, Stephanie Tsuru, Kelley and Steve Lubanko, Ceron, Emily Keeton, Angie and David Habachy, Monica Hartland, Stephanie and Ernie Cockrell, Phyllis Williams, Kristy Bradshaw, Illeana Trevino, Shawn Stephens, Martha Finger, Sandra Moffet, and Mia and Leigh Smith.

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