Shriver Takes Aim At Alzheimer's

Maria Shriver isn't only California's first lady; the former broadcast journalist is also a best-selling children's book author.

In her latest project, "What's Happening to Grandpa?" Shriver helps explain Alzheimer's to children. She also gives kids suggestions on how to help and to show love to an elderly person with the disease.

Inspired by her own father's struggle with Alzheimer's, Shriver says she wrote "What Happening to Grandpa?" to give children real information about a complex topic.

In an interview Wednesday on The Early Show Shriver recounts recent changes in her life.

The respected TV correspondent put her career on hold to focus on her new role as California's first lady after her husband, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, became governor.

She has also been dealing with her father, Sargent Shriver, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. One way she's coping is with her third children's book called, "What's Happening To Grandpa?"

Click here to read an excerpt from "What's Happening to Grandpa?"

When she found out her father had been diagnosed with the disease, she tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, multiple questions came to her mind. But over time she has seen how her family has come together through this trial.

She says, "We've always been a very tight family because, as you know, when you have any issue in a family, whether it's Alzheimer's or cancer, it affects the entire family and it affects everybody differently.

"And so one of my ways for coping was to write this book. It was a way for me to write out the questions that I, as a child, had, that my children had, that my nieces and nephew had. So it is a way of bringing it and putting a face on it for me, and also kind of putting an optimistic bent on it for me, because my dad is such an optimistic, cheerful, positive person. And I wanted this book to be that way, because it reflects his life. But I think it also reflects the life of so many grandparents who are dealing with all kinds of issues in their lives."

The book is written in the first person through the eyes of a little girl named Kate, who really loves her grandfather. She comes home one day and says, 'Grandpa, let's look at these old pictures and make a scrapbook.' It opens him up and Grandpa took her hand in his and held it tight and says, 'You know Kate, I may not remember what I just did and may seem more confused than used to be, but no matter what, the important memories of my life will forever be in my heart.'

"I believe that," Shriver says. "The great thing I hope about this book is that the little girl feels that she is of help to her grandfather. I think one of the big struggles that kids have with whatever, whether it's a death, or a disabled child, or a parent with cancer, someone with Alzheimer's is they want to feel involved. They want to feel like they're active. And this little girl, by coming up with the idea of making a scrapbook and helping her grandfather remember, feels great about what she's able to give to her grandparents."

Sargent Shriver started working on his own biography when he was diagnosed with the disease. This week, his book is coming out. It is called, "Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver."

His proud daughter notes, "I'm leaving here to go to Washington. We're having a great panel discussion to talk about the Shriver legacy and Sargent Shriver's role. I think his legacy is more important today than it has ever been. The programs he created from the Peace Corps, Head Start, Job Corps, Vista, Foster Grandparents, legal services for the poor, they are still affecting millions of people today. And his vision of understanding us as a global society I think is so important today."

As for her own job as a first lady, Maria Shriver says the first time she found out her husband was running for governor, her response was "horror, tears, shaking, the whole thing. That's the truth," she says and adds, "I think one of the things I learned through this whole process is you have to be willing to let go of your master plan, because sometimes life throws you turns in your way that you don't expect. So I'm really honored, actually, to be the first lady of California and I hope I do a good job."

Reminiscing on the old days, Smith points out Shriver did the morning show some years ago. "I remember very well. It was in 1985 to '86, 18 years ago," she says.

"We had a terrific time," Shriver says and notes, "This is the first time back on this show and I was having trembling when I felt like we were going to the other building (main broadcast center). I thought, I haven't been back in the other building. We Irish, we carry a grudge for a while. But I thought, I'm the first lady now, get over it! Go back on the show."

The grudge is gone. She says, "It's finished. I feel very comfortable. So I can do more segments if you want. I'll come back any time."

And she did. She graciously accepted an invitation to play Chic on a Shoestring with the other Early Show co-anchors.