Shriver Report Details Alzheimer's Impact on Women
I gained a lot by caring for my mom, who died of Alzheimer's disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in 2007. These gains included a chance to spend time with her in her final years, a deepening sense of empathy, and a chance to give back. But I also lost some important things, including several years of economic productivity and delayed chances at professional advancement. And like many others, the stress of caregiving took a toll on my health.
Therefore, I appreciate Maria Shriver’s decision to publish the latest version of The Shriver Report with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease. The full report will be available for purchase on Tuesday, Oct. 19, but an overview of the report's findings is currently available.
The overview of this report states that 65% of people with Alzheimer’s are women while 60% of caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s are women. “That’s 3.3 million American women with Alzheimer’s and another 6.7 million women providing care for a friend or a loved one,” the report states. “If you consider by mid-century that as many as 8 million women will have Alzheimer’s disease, it’s clear a huge Alzheimer’s tsunami is coming at this nation’s women.”
The report's overview also stated that a third of women caregivers have daily responsibility for a person with Alzheimer’s. Additionally, 40% of these caregivers reported that they had no choice in taking on the caregiving role. The societal impact of Alzheimer’s is approximately $300 billion per year to government, businesses and families.
“Almost two-thirds of all working caregivers report having to go to work late, leave early or take time off to provide care,” the report overview stated. “Yet they get less support for elder care than they do for child care. So it’s not surprising that nearly half of all women caregivers report high emotional and physical stress.” This is especially scary when you consider that the 2009 Shriver Report found that working women have emerged as the primary breadwinners in many families.
“This new report makes it clear that women in the midst of an even more far-reaching transformation in which they work, raise kids, care for the elderly, drive consumer decisions and may suffer emotional and physical stress because of it all,” the authors of the report overview wrote.
So how can we prepare for the future? It’s going to take a concerted effort by government, businesses and individuals, who, the Shriver Report suggests, will need to tackle these important questions:
- “How do we get to an appropriate level of public research funding for Alzheimer’s, given its high prevalence and cost, both of which are expected to soar?”
- “Is there a way to reduce the financial impact of the disease on families and society?”
- “How can we help millions of women caught between the dual demands of work and providing for a friend or relative with Alzheimer’s?”
- “How can average Americans prepare for the very real possibility of Alzheimer’s crashing into their lives? Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) say they haven’t considered their care options.”
- “How can government, business, nonprofits and the press effectively call attention to the threat and implement solutions?”
I also think several more question need to be addressed. For instance, how can we help these women who are serving in caregiving roles protect their own health? How can we help these women who may be forced to step off of a demanding career path regain their footing if they decide to return?
Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible disease that comes with a horrific cost not only to the loved one, but also to the caregiver. I applaud Maria Shriver and her associates for exploring the impact of this disease and asking the important questions that our society needs to debate and solve in order to go forward.