At a time when Washington is gridlocked, cities are the places to get things done. Mayors and city council members have stepped up to collaborate and solve real problems in the community – demonstrating democracy at its best.
One of the biggest problems confronting us all is the Alzheimer’s crisis. Every 65 seconds, a new brain develops Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. Two-thirds of those brains belong to women. An estimated 5.8 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s in this country and more than 16.1 million people of all ages are serving as unpaid caregivers. Many of those caregivers are also juggling the demands of parenting and careers.
This Alzheimer’s crisis is real and it’s alive in every American city. That’s why the question before each of us is this: what will city leaders do to tackle this major challenge?
Much like a city must respond to a hurricane, flood, or another natural disaster, the Alzheimer’s crisis requires a rapid-response plan of its own. We must work together to create cities that are conscious, caring, smartly designed, dementia-friendly, and well-prepared to support citizens as they age.
Let’s start by taking the following steps:
- Convene a local summit on Alzheimer’s. This disease hits every neighborhood and every economic group in your local community. (Women, African Americans, and Latinos are at an even greater risk for the disease.) Local cities should convene stakeholders — elected officials, police, fire and first responders, businesses, advocacy groups, doctors, caregivers, and citizens — for a summit to address the Alzheimer’s crisis. Come together to discuss your community’s response to this disease, whether it is exploring new models of intergenerational living, to changing how we work, to promoting dementia-friendly communities.
- Come out of your local summit with a plan. This is a resilience issue and we must be prepared. Develop a list of priorities and a plan for evaluating progress each year. Appoint an Alzheimer’s and caregiving czar who can work to increase public awareness, host community events, and speak about Alzheimer’s and caregiving at public meetings. Additionally, ask local businesses to provide paid-time-off for caregivers and clinical trial participants. Remember, this is a personal, professional, and political issue. In fact, in a recent national poll that we conducted, the majority of Americans said they were more likely to vote for politicians who make caregiving and Alzheimer’s top priorities. Now is the time to step up.
- Educate law enforcement personnel. Train first responders to recognize what Alzheimer’s and dementia look like. Patients with Alzheimer’s sometimes wander from home and may not be responsive to commands. Mandate how you want these people in your community to be treated. Training improves the chances that they will be returned and helps police/fire personnel interact with dementia patients in a safe manner.
- Engage with local colleges and universities. Local officials have strong connections with students and instructors. Work with them to launch initiatives to train the next generation of Alzheimer’s providers and caregivers to fill the shortage.
- Build a city where people of all ages can thrive. We need cities where people of all generations can live well alongside one another. Task city planners with creating the open spaces, sidewalks, and bike paths that promote healthy living and strengthen community bonds. Work for access to healthy produce and organize events that get people to come together and exercise. Build state-of-the-art care facilities where your aging citizens can be cared for holistically and get the help they need. Shine the light on your local caregivers and invite them to be a part of the fabric of the community.
As city leaders, you have to get smart and act swiftly. You serve on the frontlines of humanity and you can help change how we address this urgent national issue.
The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement is calling upon each of you to make this a priority. Declare this Alzheimer’s disaster for what it is. Speak its name. Make Alzheimer’s a part of your “State of the City” address. Be innovative. Be collaborative. Do whatever it takes because our country depends on your leadership. After all, how we respond to the Alzheimer’s crisis will tell us a lot about the character of our communities and our shared humanity. This is not an issue of party or gender. This is a non-partisan issue that we all must address together.
Will you join us?
Maria Shriver, Founder, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement