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Alzheimer’s and Its Impact on Women

Maria Shriver Talks About Her New Report on Alzheimer’s and Caregiving

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Q: You say women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer's epidemic. Could you talk about that and how it is affecting society?

A: I think it's affecting society in every way. The facts are that women have more Alzheimer's [than men do] and are doing the lion’s share of caregiving. Those are millions and millions of women. Women who have to put food on the table, who have to raise the next generation while taking care of the last generation, [who] are under duress.

Men and women in this country are going to have to care for parents who get Alzheimer's and other diseases. Businesses have to be prepared. Companies that have seen this coming and work with their employees are more successful than those who don't.

In the report, it shows that two-thirds of the people polled said they had not been able to get time off for elder care, that it was easier to get help for child care, that they had to either come in late, change their job, or take a leave altogether.

The Social Security system the way it is now doesn’t recognize women or men who take time off to do caregiving. The child care tax credit allows you to spend pretax money on child care, but doesn't allow you to do it on elder care.

The vast majority of Americans have no long-term health care plan, no long-term disability plan, and they have not sat down as a family to discuss with their children how they want to be cared for or whose responsibility is it, and how is that going to work [if Alzheimer's is diagnosed]. So very often it falls on a daughter's shoulders. Many of the women polled said they really had no choice about being a caregiver.

So just as I coined the term last year ''a woman's nation,'' we are also becoming a caregiving nation and we don't have the backup for that. We don't understand it, we don't support it, and we don’t have laws to protect it. 

Q: Can you take us back to the moment -- or series of moments -- when you decided to ''go public'' about the diagnosis of your father and to become an activist for Alzheimer's disease?

A: It was something my mother and brothers and I came to. We came to his diagnosis rather slowly and then the realization of his diagnosis, not really understanding what that meant for his future or ours.

He wrote a letter about getting Alzheimer's and what it meant for him. My father was always the best letter writer I'd ever met. And he wrote all his own speeches and so he was a beautiful, beautiful writer. So when he wanted to write the letter, it seemed like a natural thing. ... [The family distributed it to colleagues and friends, as requested.]

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