SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a task force aimed at combating Alzheimer's Disease, the 5th leading cause of death in California. The team will research ways to prevent and prepare for Alzheimer's.
"The purpose of this task force is to present recommendations to the Governor on how local communities, private organizations, businesses, government, and families can prevent and prepare for the rise in the number of cases of Alzheimer's Disease and all its consequences – and to navigate a path forward to combat this disease in a time of historic demographic change," the new organization's website reads.
"It's not just a seniors' disease, it's a human disease," said Sonya Blanco, Development Director at the Alzheimer's Association, Central Coast chapter. "This affects everybody –we're all at risk if we have a brain."
"It is a simple truth that more people are living with Alzheimer's here in the state of California, and the numbers are only about to get worse," said Newsom in a video announcement on Friday morning. "We have an obligation to do more and do better, to seek out strategies and prevention, seek out new strategies in research that can be adopted in scale, interventions that can meet the demands of an aging and graying population," he said.
The team is spearheaded by former first lady Maria Shriver, and it includes scientists, politicians, caregivers and other industry leaders who will work on prevention and preparedness efforts. The group is expected to present recommendations to the governor by fall 2020.
Experts say San Luis Obispo County will see more than 10,000 people diagnosed with Alzheimer's by the year 2030, up from about 6,500 in 2015. In Santa Barbara County, it is estimated more than 12,000 people will be living with Alzheimer's by 2030, up from around 8,000 in 2015.
"It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined," said Blanco.
Blanco says while researchers work on a cure, the Alzheimer's Association is linking patients to resources.
"We have a Respite grant, and we can give a family up to $900 once a year to help pay for in-home care."
The organization also hosts support group sessions for newly diagnosed patients, "for them to come and talk about their feelings because they're going through this," said Blanco.
Experts say the first step is recognizing the signs.
"Some of them are possibly getting lost, forgetting people's names that they should be familiar with, missing a car payment, getting into minor fender benders," said Blanco.
The next step is going to the doctor.
"It's very difficult to get people to go to the doctor to talk about cognitive impairment, especially men sometimes," the Development Director said.
The advocate says some may find it pointless to get diagnosed when there's no cure for the disease, but she explains it's important to know early on.
"We have access to a lot of clinical trials, and you never know what clinical trial could be the trial that makes the difference."
Blanco recommends going to the doctor and asking for a mini mental exam.
"It's a simple test, it's like 10 questions, talks about the time of day, math, who's the president, the county you live in."
The Alzheimer's Association hosts annual walks throughout the region to fundraise for the cause. The 2019 Santa Maria Alzheimer's walk is coming up in September, and the San Luis Obispo Walk is taking place in October.