California Gov. Gavin Newsom

The governor of the country’s most populous state called for a new “master plan on aging” and announced a new Alzheimer’s task force, to be headed by a celebrity, Tuesday morning during his first State of the State address to a joint session of the state legislature.

The aging of residents of California is a topic “too often overlooked,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said.

“Over the next decade, our statewide senior population will increase by 4 million,” he said. “In 25 years, it will double, and more than half will require some form of long-term care.”

The nonprofit organization We Stand With Seniors, launched last year by West Health and the SCAN Foundation, said Newsom is first governor in “recent history” to address the state’s aging population and associated socioeconomic challenges.

Newsom shared that his father, who had dementia, died recently after years of declining health.

“He also happened to be a retired public official with a pension and a support circle of family and friends,” the governor said. “Even with all those advantages, it was a daily challenge to meet his needs so he could live in place and maintain a good quality of life. Millions of Californians share a similar story, and the numbers will only grow.”

A state master plan to address age-related issues must address “person-centered care, the patchwork of public services, social isolation, bed-locked seniors in need of transportation, the nursing shortage and demand for in-home supportive services that far outpaces its capacity,” Newsom said.

Just last week, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) introduced a bill under which the governor would appoint an “aging czar” to lead a 15-member task force that would develop a master plan to address challenges related to long-term care and aging.

“I was pleased to see Gov. Newsom recognize the issues facing California’s older adults in his State of the State today,” she said Tuesday. “I look forward to working with him on a master plan for aging through my Senate Bill 228 to address these challenges in a thoughtful and collaborative way. California must not leave our aging loved ones behind.”

New Alzheimers task force

A discussion of aging must include Alzheimer’s disease, Newsom said in his address.

“Too many of us have seen the crushing grip this disease has on our loved ones — and especially on our wives and mothers: two-thirds of new Alzheimer’s cases are women,” he said.

Approximately 650,000 Californians over the age of 65 currently have Alzheimer’s, and the number is projected to grow to 840,000 by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Newsom said that former California first lady Maria Shriver, a journalist whose late father had dementia, will lead the new Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force. The group also will include “the most renowned scientists and thinkers” and will “develop first-of-its-kind research in this area,” he said.

Among Shriver’s Alzheimer’s-related advocacy efforts are the founding of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and testimony before the federal Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2009 and 2017.

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