Everywhere you turn these days we’re being told that government doesn’t work, that our democracy is too polarized to deliver for everyday people. The budget Gov. Newsom recently signed tells a different story. It will help turbocharge our recovery from COVID-19 and make a historic commitment on another urgent public health crisis: Alzheimer’s.
Two years after the governor convened for the first time a special Task Force to help the state address Alzheimer’s, California is investing a record $32.5 million to fight this deadly disease and offer a model to the nation. This is government doing its job.
Alzheimer’s is a growing emergency we cannot afford to ignore. More than six million Americans live with Alzheimer’s today — almost two-thirds of whom are women. And every 65 seconds someone else develops the disease. Here in California, nearly 700,000 suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia — the highest in the nation. That number is expected to increase by nearly 22% in the next five years and cost taxpayers more than $5 billion per year by 2025.
The budget Gov. Newsom recently signed puts real muscle behind many of our proposals, like building the caregiver workforce and investing in cutting-edge research.
This issue is deeply personal to me. I watched my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s and I saw how difficult it was for my family. So I was honored and humbled to lead Gov. Newsom’s Alzheimer’s Task Force, the first in Golden State history. It was comprised of leading doctors, researchers, advocates, and Californians from all walks of life.
Over the course of a year and a half we met with families and caregivers from across the state who shared their stories, and we took it to heart when they told us: “We’re counting on you to make a difference.” When COVID-19 laid bare the vulnerability of our healthcare and caretaking system for seniors, we redoubled our focus on equity and action. We ultimately identified 10 ambitious but common sense proposals in a report released in November 2020.
I’m proud of what we achieved, but even prouder of what came after: The budget Gov. Newsom recently signed puts real muscle behind many of our proposals, like building the caregiver workforce and investing in cutting-edge research. And Washington took note. As part of the American Rescue Plan, President Biden provided $10 million for California elder day care and resource centers, and $25 million to ensure Medi-Cal beneficiaries receive the timely, quality cognitive care everyone deserves.
It’s a disgrace that the tech industry hasn’t marshaled the innovation to make access to services easy for all. Silicon Valley, please help us.
This is how government should work: listening to experts, centering the experiences of women, people of color, and other historically marginalized communities, and turning recommendations into results. Alzheimer’s is an issue that defies the partisan warfare dividing our country. Across America, there are Republicans, Democrats and Independents working together on this cause, demonstrating that it’s possible for our leaders to inspire hope and make meaningful progress.
To be sure, there is still a long way to go to make Alzheimer’s less costly, confusing, and heart-wrenching. And $32.5 million is just a down-payment on what we’ll need to get there. There are additional steps leaders in California and across the nation should take to keep this progress going.
First, California should get every one of our Task Force’s recommendations across the finish line. That means implementing policies included in this budget – like a statewide public education campaign and incentivizes for cities to promote healthier, less isolated communities. California should also enact recommendations that didn’t make it into this year’s budget, like creating a digital portal to serve as a one-stop-shop for information and resources. Too often, Californians are forced to navigate a fragmented, confusing system in order to receive the cognitive care they need. It’s a disgrace that the tech industry hasn’t marshaled the innovation to make access to services easy for all. Silicon Valley, please help us.
So consider this an invitation for leaders across the country to recognize the scale of the problem and make the necessary investments.
Second, this crisis isn’t limited to California, and its solutions shouldn’t be either. It’s heartening to see states such as Florida following our lead, but others need to get on board. And we all need to understand that this disease isn’t impacting every community the same way. Women are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia at much higher rates than men. Older Black and Hispanic Americans are also disproportionately more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias than white Americans. Every state needs to be part of ensuring all Americans, no matter their backgrounds, can grow old with security and dignity.
Third, Congress should pass President Biden’s proposals for supporting American families and caregivers and make much-needed investments in Alzheimer’s research and care, including a new federal agency dedicated to curing diseases like Alzheimer’s. States like California can only do so much without legislative action from Washington and the clock is ticking: Alzheimer’s could cost American taxpayers as much as $1.1 trillion annually by 2050.
If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t afford to let crises go unchecked. That’s why I’m so proud that our Task Force members sounded the alarm on Alzheimer’s, and that California’s leaders responded quickly and boldly. It’s also why we need to do more. So consider this an invitation for leaders across the country to recognize the scale of the problem and make the necessary investments.
If we get creative, think big, and act accordingly, we can tackle Alzheimer’s and make California — and America — not just a place for young people to live out their dreams, but also the best place in the world to grow old.
Editor’s Note: Maria Shriver, the former First Lady of California, is a mother of four, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, a seven-time New York Times best-selling author, and the founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.