Why is Alzheimer’s More Likely in Women?

It’s no secret that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers previously attributed this to the fact that women live longer than men. However, as scientists look into the increased risk of Alzheimer’s in women they are finding there may be other contributing factors to the disease beyond longevity.Why is Alzheimer's More Likely in Women?

Learn more about the new studies and what may be causing more women to suffer from Alzheimer’s. 

Alzheimer’s More Likely in Women

While Alzheimer’s is indiscriminate and affects people from all walks of life, recent studies has found that women are bearing a disproportionate amount of the Alzheimer’s burden:

  • Aside from the fact that 60% of all Alzheimer’s caregivers are women, at the age of 65, women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men.
  • Additionally, out of the 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S., 3.2 million are women.
  • Research has found that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than to develop breast cancer.

Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said of these risks:

“There are enough biological questions pointing to increased risk in women that we need to delve into that and find out why. There is a lot that is not understood and not known. It’s time we did something about it.”

Taking action, the Alzheimer’s Association brought together 15 of the world’s leading scientists to look further into why Alzheimer’s is more likely in women.

Risk Factors Beyond Longevity

Until now, the gap had been largely attributed to the fact that women live longer than men and age is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Roberta Diaz Brinton, a University of Southern California professor who studies gender differences said, “It is true that age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.” But, she went on to say, “on average, women live for our five years longer than men, and we know that Alzheimer’s is a disease that starts 20 years before the diagnosis.”

Thus far, genetic studies have offered a startling account for the difference. Researchers from Stanford University studied over 8,000 people looking for a form of the gene ApoE-4, a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. They found that women who carry a copy of that particular gene variant were twice as likely to eventually develop Alzheimer’s as women without the gene. Men who had the gene were only at a slightly increased risk than men who did not have the gene. While it is not clear why the gene poses such a drastic increase in risk, Brinton believes it may be how the gene interacts with estrogen. 

Another study suggests that it may be related to heart health. A study from Framingham, Massachusetts suggests that because men are more likely to die from heart disease in middle age, those men who live past 65 may have healthier hearts which may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s and heart disease share many risk factors including high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

Exactly why women are bearing the Alzheimer’s burden still remains yet to be determined. Carrillo pointed out that 40 years ago, no one really understood how heart disease affected women and says:

“How do we make sure we’re not making that mistake when it comes to Alzheimer’s?”

What do you think about the link between Alzheimer’s and women? Have you seen any other contributing causes that create an increased risk for the disease? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

Related Articles:

Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Jennifer Scoma

    My mother has the disease and my grandmother had it as well, although at the time we dismissed my grandmother as just having dementia. My theory links it to menapause and hormones. My grandmother and mother were put on hormone replacement to help with the syptoms of peri-menapause. I often wondered if there was a link to the disease and if there is research to dispute this. My mother was put on them mid forties and started showing syptoms around 65. I’m in my late forties and am going through this lovely process without any replacement hormones. I think our bodies are supposed to go through this process naturally . I was wondering if anyone believes there is a link. I do not want my children to have to go through this painful goodbye as I am with my mother. I miss her but she is still present physically but most of the time not mentally. I wonder every day what is going on inside of her and the fears and confusion she must feel. She knows most of the time who I am but the memories of me are absent. The hardest part for me is not having her there as my mom anymore. My mom and I were so close that she could predict whenever I would call her on phone and I knew when she couldn’t predict me calling is when I knew I was losing her. I hate that this disease took my mom early but what I hate more is know how much fear and confusion she is going through towards the end of her life and there is nothing I can do to help her. I fear that this is going to be me. I do not want to put my husband and children through this enduring and helpless pain.

  • Shur

    I read an article that says women should sleep linger than men because women think more comparing to men. So It came to me that maybe link between alzheimer and women is related to the fact that women sometimes overthink and worry too much about little details.

About The Author

Profile photo of Alissa Sauer