Although Alzheimer’s is a global epidemic, recent studies are showing that women bear a disproportionate burden of the disease. The reason for this remains largely unclear, but an increasing body of research is taking a closer look at Alzheimer’s in women.
Learn more about the impact of the disease on women and the studies that are seeking to understand why.
Alzheimer’s in Women
Two-thirds of the 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. It was previously thought that women were at an increased risk for the disease because they typically live longer than males, and age is the main risk factor for developing the disease.
However, researchers now believe that there are biological and social determinants involved. Women also bear the Alzheimer’s caregiving burden, with 60% of caregivers being female.
Rebecca Edelmayer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association, remarks:
“Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease as both persons living with the disease and as the caregivers of those with dementia. Over the last three years, the Alzheimer’s Association has invested $3.2 million into 14 projects looking at sex differences for the disease and some of the findings today may explain risk, prevalence and rate decline for women.”
2019 Alzheimer’s Studies Focus on Differences in Gender
In response to the burden that Alzheimer’s is placing on women, several studies are now focusing on why there is such a gender gap when it comes to the disease.
From biological differences to lifestyle choices, these studies seek to understand (and ultimately bring relief) to women:
- A study from the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine used data from brain scans and found that women were able to metabolize glucose more efficiently, which could help them compensate for damage caused by Alzheimer’s and retain cognitive function, delaying an early dementia diagnosis. When the disease is not diagnosed in its early stages, the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is less likely to benefit from clinical trials or therapies that could slow its progression.
- A study from Vanderbilt University found abnormal tau protein in the brain may be wider spread among various brain regions in women than men. Using brain imaging technology, researchers found that women who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) had more tau present as well as a quicker spread of tau across more brain regions compared to men with MCI.
- Yet another study evaluated socioeconomic factors finding that women who worked steadily experienced a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, especially among married mothers. The study found that women between the ages of 60 and 70 who were married mothers and never worked were 61% faster than married mothers who continued to work.
As research continues to reveal more about the differences between men and women, scientists are seeking to understand how the brain structural differences between genders impact the risk of Alzheimer’s.
It’s increasingly clear that Alzheimer’s research cannot take a gender-neutral approach and scientists will need to consider gender moving forward.
Why do you think there is a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia in women than men? We’d like to hear from you in the comments below.