Last week “The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Takes On Alzheimer’s.” was released and the message was stark. Women are at the epicentre of the Alzheimer’s epidemic.
Maria Shriver, First Lady of California has been a major voice and campaigner promoting awareness of Alzheimer’s disease since her own father was diagnosed back in 2003. This report compiled with the Alzheimer’s Association reported the results of a poll of 3118 people. The results indicted that 65% of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are women. One reason for this imbalance is thought to be because women on the whole tend to outlive men. However there may be other factors at play here as well. Dr Roberta Brinton PhD, who specialises in studying the role of hormones and brain health in women, said she believed it is essential for all women between the age of 40 and 50 to maintain their brain health. This means trying to keep overall in good health, eating a balanced nutritious diet and exercising. Other risk factors need to be dealt with by women minimising their own risk of Type 2 diabetes, vascular disease and depression, which are all linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The other major point raised by the report is that 60% of the caregivers for those living with the disease are also women. Moreover these women themselves are at a higher risk. They have an x6-increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s because of the associated stresses from caring with someone with the disease. The caregivers were also found to have an increased risk of heart disease, and hypertension and an overall increased mortality rate of 63%.
Of the 11 million caregivers in the States, two million are under the age of 18. In this group, 250,000 of these minors are caregivers for a parent and 1.5 million of them are caregivers for a grandparent.
Shriver said that she wishes to support political candidates who will promote Alzheimer’s research and advocate for programs to help women. A major lifestyle issue is how to balance care-giving with jobs outside the home. She believes this balance is going to become increasingly important to find as more people (especially women) have to devote time to care-giving of a parent. Business and employers need to be mindful of the need to provide workplace flexibility to allow for “eldercare” she said. Women tend at present either to just swap to part-time work or leave the workplace altogether whereas men appear to find it easier to obtain work flexibility.
In California Maria Shriver has been instrumental in the setting up of an Intergenerational Playground where parents can take children as well as their parents. As more people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is likely that more of these type of facilities will become available, in recognition of the many parents who find themselves as the “sandwich generation” looking after their children and their ageing parents. The United States remains one of the few countries without a National Plan on how the country is going to tackle the expected Alzheimer’s epidemic. Many Americans simply do not have long-term health care cover. It is estimated that it currently costs around $56,000 us per year to care for someone at home with Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been estimated that it will cost closer to US$20 trillion over the next 40 years. Maria Shriver makes the point that it is going to cost the country that money anyway, so why not make it available for further research and facilities to care for those with the disease.