Shriver: National Policy on Alzheimer's Needed

PHOTO Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, wants to make sure that women use their votes to support new policies on Alzheimers and its caregivers.

This election cycle, Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, wants to make sure that women use their votes to support new policies on Alzheimer's and its caregivers.

"It's an exciting time for women in this country," she told Diane Sawyer during a recent interview for "World News." "I think we can really push the envelope. We can get people's attention."

VIDEO: Maria Shriver discusses ways to help caregivers, inspired by her fathers battle with Alzheimers.
Maria Shriver Talks to Diane Sawyer about Alzheimer's

And what Shriver wants people to notice is her extensive new report on Alzheimer's titled "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's."

A collaborative research effort between Shriver and the Alzheimer's Association, it calls on society and government to address the needs of patients and caregivers, fund more research into treatment for Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, and help people prepare for the possibility of an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

She said the job of a caregiver is 24/7. "Caregivers end up spending about $5 billion on their own health," she said. "People who do the caretaking are at much more risk of depresssion, and increased chances of getting Alzheimer's."

"Caregivers need to learn to ask for help. They need to join support groups," she said, adding that the nation needs to get involved.

Much of the information in the report comes from the Alzheimer's Association's 2010 Women and Alzheimer's Poll, which involved interviews with more than 3,100 people, including more than 500 caregivers. The poll shows the deleterious effects of trying to maintain a full-time job while caring for someone with Alzheimer's.

Women Caregivers Under Siege, Stressed

Shriver said that women spent about 40 hours a week caring for relatives, on top of parenting and working. She said as she traveled around the United States, women told her they felt as if they were under siege.

"Businesses aren't responsive. The government isn't responsive. The media isn't responsive," Shriver said they told her.

Shriver said that more employers needed to offer flexible hours and talk with their workers about their situations at home.

"Many of the people who responded to the polls [from the report] said they either had to come in late, downshift their job or leave it all together because [of] doctor's appointments, waiting ... not finding somebody who could help their parent," she said. "They're in a very vulnerable situation."

Shriver: 'No National Policy for Alzheimer's'

She said that there was no national policy for Alzheimer's, although other countries have them.

"I think this president and this Congress can stand up and say, 'This is a national epidemic,'" Shriver said. "We can get a national strategy. If we launch a national endeavor to underscore and find out what's going on in the brain, I think we can get the money."

But first, she said, families and individuals need to start having conversations about caregiving plans and Alzheimer's with one another today.

"Seventy percent of families said they have no conversation ever about long-term care options," Shriver said. "Only 7 million Americans have long-term care insurance. There's a lot of preparation that can be done in homes across this country today."

In 2009, Shriver built the nation's first intergenerational playground in Sacramento, Calif., which allowed people of all ages to gather and play -- a great asset to women who have children and who also care for elderly parents.

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