Women and Alzheimers

Women and Alzheimers

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects more than 5 million Americans — and nearly two-thirds of them are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Until recently, experts believed differences in men’s and women’s longevity and life experiences played a significant role in the disease’s predominance in women. For instance, women live longer than men, giving them more time to develop the condition.

Another idea was that men’s increased access to certain life experiences, such as type and amount of education, helped prevent AD. However, a growing body of research suggests there’s more happening behind the scenes:

  • A University of California, San Francisco study focused on levels of amyloid plaques — sticky proteins that clump together in the brain and interfere with nerve cell function. The study looked at brains of people with varying cognitive ability, from normal to those with AD. The study’s findings showed higher levels of amyloid plaque in women’s brains compared to men of the same age and cognitive functioning.
  • Compared to senior men of the same age, senior women are at an increased risk of suffering cognitive dysfunction following surgery involving general anesthesia, an Oregon Health & Science University study found.
  • Women who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) experience cognitive decline at twice the rate than men with MCI, according to a study conducted by Duke University.

This research suggests that women have a greater biological vulnerability to AD than men. Although the exact cause of AD is still unknown, doctors encourage patients to stay active as they age and eat a healthy diet for the best chance at better health.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is not a part of getting older. Risk factors for developing the degenerative condition include:

  • having a family history of AD
  • having cardiovascular disease risk factors — including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity and smoking
  • sustaining a head trauma or traumatic brain injury

Researchers are exploring other potential risk factors — particularly in women, who make up nearly 65 percent of Americans living with AD. To jump-start this gender-focused research mission, the Alzheimer’s Association launched the first-ever Alzheimer’s Association Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) grant funding program in 2016 to help investigate the relationships between genetics, hormones and lifestyle factors — such as stress, sleep disorders, depression and metabolic disorders — that may play a role in the higher prevalence of AD in women.