HBO series details Alzheimer's pain, progress
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Maria Shriver said her role in a major HBO documentary series on Alzheimer's stems from the professional and the intensely personal.
"I approached this project as a child of Alzheimer's," she said, a reference to her father, Sargent Shriver, who was diagnosed in 2003 with the fearsome disease that causes deepening, irreversible dementia.
Her work on the four-part "The Alzheimer's Project" also reflects her vantage point as a journalist and a citizen who wants others to get involved in overcoming Alzheimer's, she said.
"It's going to take all of us as a nation to get involved in finding a cure for this," said Shriver, a series executive producer and host of one of the programs.
There's reason for hope, according to the documentary. In fact, "The Alzheimer's Project" was a result of the progress being made toward treating and possibly preventing the brain disorder, said series producer John Hoffman.
After HBO's similarly ambitious project "Addiction," produced in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health, the cable channel wanted to continue its relationship with the agency, Hoffman said.
The search for the next topic focused on "where science has advanced and the public is unaware of these gains in knowledge," said Hoffman.
Alzheimer's fit that profile, he said. The disease also is among the most-feared in the nation, affecting at least 5 million Americans and expected to hit millions more as the population ages, Hoffman said.
But scientists are beginning to crack the disease's code, according to the HBO project, which carefully — and without hype — documents advances against the disease.
The series, beginning Sunday and airing over three nights, also focuses on the emotional toll Alzheimer's takes on its sufferers and those close to them.
It open with "The Memory Loss Tapes," an intimate look at seven people living with Alzheimer's. The two-part "Momentum in Science," airing Monday and Tuesday, explores research advances with the scientists and physicians leading the way.
Also airing Monday is "Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?" with Shriver, which gives voice to the children and grandchildren of Alzheimer's patients. Tuesday's "Caregivers" details the hard work and rewards of those in the disease's inner circle.
Besides being featured on all HBO channels and HBO On Demand, the series will stream free on hbo.com. There's also a companion book, "The Alzheimer's Project: Momentum in Science," and a Web site.
Executive producer Sheila Nevins recognizes that some viewers might be more interested in the science while others are drawn to the personal accounts.
"We don't want people to see one part and think that's the whole story. Every part in contingent on the other," Nevins said. "The hope is that each show answers questions and raises others answered in the multiple programs."
Shriver, formerly with NBC News, a member of the Kennedy political dynasty and wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the call to action must include but go beyond government support for Alzheimer's research and caregivers.
"It's up to our generation to help find a cure," Shriver said. "A cure is not just going to happen unless we stand up and say, `There are millions and millions of use, and we're dying in a different way alongside the person who has Alzheimer's.'"
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