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A challenge to elected officials, candidates and Americans on World Alzheimer's Day

Nationwide, a new case of the disease develops every 65 seconds. It's time to recognize we are facing a crisis.

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day, a day for us to confront the fact that nearly 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide.

Nationwide, a new case of the disease develops every 65 seconds. Two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women, and no one knows why. It is time to recognize that our nation is in crisis.

The direct costs to America — $277 billion and 18 billion unpaid care hours — are staggering. But ultimately the toll is achingly human in its pain, isolation, and emotional devastation.

This is a national emergency that has left millions of us broke and broken — but we are not helpless. How we respond will tell us a lot about who we are as a nation and what we value as Americans. With the election six weeks away, we’re challenging everyone running for office to talk about this disease — and every person to vote, speak out, and stand with the candidates who promise to lead us into a future without Alzheimer’s.

It starts with each one of us.

From now to Election Day, push candidates to speak to the giant constituency affected by this issue and vote for those who make Alzheimer’s a part of their platform. Make calls, knock on doors, and raise awareness where you live. Take a cognitive assessment each year after age 50, and ask family members and friends to do the same. Scientists need your participation in clinical trials, so sign up. Make the effort to know people in your life who are caregivers — and support them.

Above all, advocate for brain health. Make wellness — diet, exercise, social engagement — a part of your American dream. Prioritize it in your home, workplace, and neighborhood.

Businesses must step up too. Many employees are family caregivers: Help them stay employed by expanding their leave options and enabling them to check in on loved ones while at work. Give employees paid time off to participate in Alzheimer’s clinical trials. Given the stakes, this is nothing less than a form of national service. And if you are an innovator looking to solve a big challenge, focus on Alzheimer’s. We need all the creativity and resourcefulness we can muster.

Finally, we need government. Everyone counts on government to be ready when disaster strikes. With Alzheimer’s, the disaster expands every day.

Candidates for governor: commit to hosting a statewide Alzheimer’s summit in the first quarter of the year, to discussing Alzheimer’s in your State-of-the-State, and to appointing a director to oversee the state’s response to the disease and report to you.

Candidates for Congress: commit to stepped-up funding for both NIH research and caregiver support.

Candidates for the state legislature: Invest in training for providers, caregivers, and law enforcement officials, and create initiatives for public college students to enter this field.

For all candidates: seize this moment. In today’s climate, the opportunities for bold and bipartisan action to change America’s trajectory are rare. Embrace the chance to do good and make history.

Eight years ago, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s reported for the first time the disproportionate impact of Alzheimer’s on women. The challenge has not abated. But we know what our nation is capable of. One day, someone will write a report on how America took on Alzheimer’s. It will be a story of millions of people, all working cooperatively to meet a challenge touching every one of us, reflecting the values and character that make us who we are.

Let’s get started.

Maria Shriver is an award-winning NBC journalist and author who founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. She served as First Lady of California from 2003 to 2011.

Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. is the Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Vice-Chair of Neurology and Director of the Genetics and Aging Unit at Mass General, Chair of Cure Alzheimer's Fund.

Joshua Grill, Ph.D., is the director of UC-Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND).

Dr. Bruce Miller is the director of UCSF's Memory and Aging Center.

Roberta Diaz Brinton, Ph.D., is the inaugural Director for the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, Professor of Pharmacology, Neurology and Psychology at the University of Arizona.