I'm privileged to have obtained press credentials once again for the California Women's Conference, hosted by First Lady Maria Shriver.
Shriver did not originate the Conference. It was actually launched in 1985 by then-Governor George Deukmejian and First Lady Gloria Deukmejian and its focus was promoting women-owned businesses. The speakers and programs still offer support for women in business.
But since Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in 2005, the conference has grown to a three-day event that has expanded its scope to also promote volunteerism, and women's health and well-being, and attracting more than 25,000 attendees. I think Maria Shriver can take the credit for that.
This will be Shriver's last year as First Lady and host of the Conference, and whoever is elected Governor next week will have a hard act to follow. It kicked off this weekend with a three-day free women's health fair, and last night's March on Alzheimer's (which came on the heels of the release of the latest Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's).
I was on a conference call last week with Ms. Shriver and Angela Geiger of the Alzheimer's Association,I learned some frightening statistics about the disease, which Shriver described as a "tsunami" about to hit our healthcare system, as so many baby boomers (like me!) are now reaching the age when Alzheimer's begins to become symptomatic. And women are "at the epicenter" of this, as 66% of Alzheimer's sufferers and 60% of caregivers are female...
...and we have NO national policy yet to deal with it.
- Over half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer's; 30% are family members
- 3.3 million are women
- One-third of caregivers are in the "sandwich" generation (raising kids while caring for elders)
- Six out of 10 lack other family members to help
- The cost of treatment is staggering: $56,000 per person per year
The stress level of caregivers is high. Many report that it is easier to get time off from work for childcare than elder care. There is a gigantic need to get better workplace support and government policies to assist the families who will be dealing with the tidal wave to come... yet, right now, we only spend $500 Million per year on Alzheimer's research (compared with $6 Billion for cancer and $5 Billion for heart disease).
"We need to get business leaders focused on what their employees dealing with, and get government devising a policy," Shriver said. "And it's up to baby boomer women pushing for advances."
Right now, there's no real way of knowing if someone will develop the disease until symptoms show. We may eventually be able to delay or prevent onset if we learn how to identify the disease before it becomes symptomatic.
In the meantime, Shriver suggested we "connect the dots. Eat plenty of foods with omega 3, exercise both your body and your brain, and have the talk about plans for long term care options."
And of course, some of the action we need to take is political. "Ask your representatives where they stand": if they support gender equity in the workplace, and expansion of the family leave act to include eldercare.
For those already showing signs of onset, Geiger noted that the Alzheimer's Association helps match individuals with appropriate clinical trials.
Most of all, we need to talk about this and keep it on the public agenda.