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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer’s and Its Impact on Women

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


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.]

I had written already two children's books, one on heaven and one on people with disabilities, and I decided to write one on explaining Alzheimer's to my children and to other young children that I thought would have to come face to face with Alzheimer's. It was a relief to speak about it, because I think it's always a relief to come out from behind what you might think of as a secret or shadow or something that people are thinking but they don't really know.

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