Alzheimer’s disease is an urgent crisis & CA must lead

One year ago today, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force came together

One year ago today, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force came together to develop bold recommendations for how California can lead the nation in tackling the crisis of Alzheimer’s.

On this day, we accomplish that mission, presenting the governor with 10 ambitious but commonsense proposals we urge the state to swiftly adopt as part of its Master Plan on Aging.

While it may seem like the Alzheimer’s epidemic can wait for tomorrow as COVID-19 surges and an economic recovery remains elusive, one of the most important lessons from this year is this: We can’t afford to let crises go unchecked.

We must act — and act now.

Make no mistake, California: Alzheimer’s is a crisis, one we can’t ignore. The Golden State is getting grayer, with our over-65 population expected to grow from six to nine million in the next decade.

California is home to more Americans with Alzheimer’s than any other state in the country. Over 690,000 people here live with the disease today — a number that will grow by nearly 22% in just the next five years. In fact, just this summer, deaths due to Alzheimer’s and dementia rose by more than 20%.

And as we saw with COVID-19, our healthcare and elder care systems are not prepared for what’s coming. Tackling this crisis is a health, financial and moral imperative.

Here’s the good news: While California may be the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s crisis in the US, no state is better suited to lead the nation in taking it on.

California is where the future is invented. It’s where dreams come to life, whether on a Hollywood set or in a Silicon Valley garage. California has never shied away from the hardest problems, and we have extraordinary resources at our disposal, including world-class research universities, an unparalleled innovation ecosystem and communities that care for each other.

As one of the most diverse states in the nation, we have the perspective, background and resolve to tackle the inequities associated with Alzheimer’s prevention and care, as well as debunk myths related to brain health.

For all these reasons and more, California can and must create a model the rest of the country can follow for helping those affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. That’s what our task force’s recommendations aim to achieve.

Our team of leading doctors, researchers, labor representatives and advocates identified policies for helping Californians with Alzheimer’s and dementia, the families and caregivers who support them and communities who need access to better interventions and information early in life. We considered lessons from the pandemic, the economic crisis and the ongoing racial injustice reckoning in this country.

Our proposals will make our healthcare system stronger, our economy stronger and our communities stronger.

We are recommending California invest in cutting-edge research, create a California Cares digital portal that will serve as a one-stop shop for information and resources and offer a statewide care-giving training and certification program.

The state should also launch a public awareness campaign to combat widespread misinformation about Alzheimer’s and encourage the Blue Zone City challenge to encourage local and regional collaboration and innovation in designing urban environments. And we’re suggesting the governor appoint a senior advisor on Alzheimer’s who can implement these recommendations and oversee progress thereafter.

Together, these proposals add up to a new approach that can be part of a broader effort to make California the best state in which to grow old.

Sadly, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s. But California can and must do a lot more to meet this challenge. We’ve seen what happens when we let crises go unchecked and get out of control.

There is no question that if we don’t take bold and decisive action on Alzheimer’s now, we will set ourselves up for future tragedies.

With our task force’s set of thorough recommendations, we have a chance to turn despair into hope and challenges into opportunity. Let’s seize this moment and invest in the future we want to see for ourselves and all of California.

Maria Shriver is former First Lady of California, a mother of four, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, a seven-time New York Times best-selling author, an NBC News Special Anchor and the founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.

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