Why Is Alzheimer’s More Likely in Women?

Last Updated: August 1, 2018

It’s no secret that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers previously attributed this to the longevity of women, but scientists are finding that there may be other contributing factors to the disease.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 Is More Likely in Women

While Alzheimer’s is indiscriminate, recent studies have found that women are bearing a disproportionate amount of the Alzheimer’s burden:

  1. 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.
  2. Additionally, out of the 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S., 3.2 million are women.
  3. 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 longevity of women, since age is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Roberta Diaz Brintona 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 four or 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. These two diseases 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.

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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.

    • Rhonda

      Actually, the Womens Health Initiative {WHI} says that women who stay on premarin for a long time are “probably” going to get alzheimers. Premarin is for women who’ve had their uterus removed. However, I recently read an article that said the WHI study was flawed and that out of 10,000 women on 0.625 mg premarin 37 of them will probably get alzheimers. So if you are only on .3 mg which can make a real difference in menopausal symptoms, this # of women {37} would probably be lower.

  • 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.

    • Olo Ìli

      The problem with what you just said is that overthinking, and especially anxiety, are the worst things for your sleep, they cause insomnia and disturbed sleep. It might be added that this might be one of the reasons why insomnia is more common among women

  • tiombe

    A study was done that shows multitasking reduces the amount of brain power available for each task and over time the resulting stress hormones damage memory centers in the brain. This could shed some light on the higher incidence in women as they are chronic multitaskers. It could also provide some insight on how younger women can make small changes in their lives that might help decrease the probability that they will fall victim to alzheimer’s later in life.

  • joe schmoe

    well I got an ad for alz.org so I read through it and Im probably not phrasing this right but there is something that keeps neurons in line called a tao. if something breaks it down. It becomes a blockage and neurons get caught and die. women are known to make more connections in the brain so that could contribute to it. After all women make so many more connections in the brain then men that their brains are considered more efficient despite being smaller. Still, I wonder what the correlation between bipolar disorder with mania and alztheimers is since you would think it would be even worse in that case if that is the reason.

  • Susie Elaine

    I can not get out of my mind that maybe hair spray contributed to Alzheimer’s. My mother battled Alzheimer’s beginning in her fifties and died this year, 2017, 3 days shy of her 77th birthday. I would visit the memory care unit and see all these ladies with hairdos like my mother had all her life all teased and sprayed. I know hair spray is made safer these days but back in the years it was not. These ladies sprayed their heads until the hair set like a helmet. They always looked picture perfect and beautiful. We know chemicals seep into the skin. I just think it could contribute. Its an obvious common thread. Have any studies looked into this?

    • Morag Selkirk

      Has it occurred to you that a life of trying to be other than what you are, ie by looking in the mirror, very first thing in the morning and not daring to go out until you put on makeup, then spraying it all into place has a massive psychological effect on the brain. And then, when reaching a certain age when there is nobody left to say, “Yes, you look lovely, my dear”, leaves a vacuum. Perhaps your mother and many more women have lived vacant lives, living simply for approval from others – do I look good in this and longing for somebody else to approve. Always taking the back seat. If they had lived their own lives the approval would have come from themselves. I love clothes, however, I have always, since a child and still do wear what I want and love inventing rather than trying to glue myself into a carbon copy of what I think other people may approve of. As an afterthought, before women get ‘hitched’ they wear what they want, however, after married the man says what is permissible. Time to get a life and don’t end it being told what to do. Watch the documentary, ‘Iris’ by Albert Maysles. We’re not all going to dress like her but boy does she have spirit! And that is what the world is about.

    • Kyle Michael

      My mom passed at age 80 from Alzheimer’s and she too used hairspray all the time, especially during the sixties when that was popular. It was called Aqua Net. I have thought about the connection as well. Besides that possibility – it couldn’t have been healthy for the lungs. And maybe it did affect the brain as well. A study should be done somehow, if it hasn’t.

  • Rosie Rogers

    I read this poem once and I’d like to share here. I think that this is beautiful. I work in a nursing home with folks who have dementia and Alzhemiers; and I read this everyday just to remind myself and I tear up a little too. When they have their good days it’s a wonderful day, even if it only lasts for just a very short time, sometimes only hours, but those hours are glorious.


    Do not ask me to remember,
    Don’t try to make me understand
    Let me rest and know you’re with me
    Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
    I’m confused beyond your concept
    I am sad and sick and lost
    All I know is that I need you
    To be with me at all costs.
    Please do not lose your patience with me
    Do not scold me or curse or cry
    I can’t help the way i’m acting
    I can’t be different though I try.
    Just remember that I need you
    And that the best of me is gone
    Please don’t fail to stand beside me
    And love me ill my life is done.

    By: Owen Darnell

  • Irene Carrey

    If woman are more likely to get Alzheimer’s and sleep may be a factor I have sleep problems and my sister and mother and so do, and my grandmother who died with Alzheimer’s had sleep problems.

  • Irene Carrey

    With women Alzheimer’s most likely Also thinking about hormonal issues due to pre to post menapausal with emotional to hot flashes up to their 80’s and does effect sleeping.

  • Morag Selkirk

    There is no alzheimer’s in my family but know people who have developed it and very much question any theory as to it being related to genetics. I have no medical nor scientific qualifications but feel it to be a loss of interest life; whean life up to that point has been

  • Anderson Fernandes Ribeiro

    Nowadays my mother is 61 years old but her first symptoms of Alzheimer’s began when she was 56. Today, five years later she does not even can to talk anymore. Her condition advanced at a devastating speed, for us it’s something inexplicable! I did not have the opportunity to meet my grandfather but I discover that he died suffering from this same condition. So I think the chances that I have to have Alzheimer’s is too big, or maybe not.

  • Cyborg119

    I can’t believe this article. Do they Live under a rock? They are in LA – LA land. Women have a higher rate of Alzheimer.
    A neighbor wife contracted Alzheimer & Parkinson and hen had a stroke. She ran a beauty shop for 50 years. Later in life she dyed her hair every two weeks. The chemicals used in hair dyes and nails are carcinogenic and they damage the nerves.

    My Dad worked with raw pesticides for 30 years and contracted Bladder Cancer and Parkinson. the labels even said there were a neurotoxin.

    Some of the most common and dangerous ingredients used in hair dyes are;
    resorcinol etc.

    Nail workers are exposed to toluene, Formaldehyde, Methacerylate, Dibutol Phthalate and others.
    Both types of workers inhale the chemicals. Both workers get it on their clothes. They eat it also because it gets on their food.


    • Lita Chow

      Very true, but for the sake of beauty, they continue to use them, though you could go to organic, but still not 100% organic. Stay natural and be happy with your look!

  • Rhonda

    They’re are talking about alzheimers. How do you know hair dye and nail lacquer causes alzheimers? Did you do your own study? Can you quote any studies that were done?

  • Cyborg119

    Rhonda Do a search key words – Beauticians Alzheimer + Beauticians Cancer There are multiple articles stating the chemical exposure causes all kinds disease, many fatal.
    Here is one “Think Progress the price of nice hair.
    [Link Removed]

    What incenses me is these looney Liberals writing this trash don’t seem to have a clue. They don[t even mention or hint there is a link. Yet there are thousands of scientists that have studied the 100 % certainty of dozens of devastating diseases experienced by Beauticians, at a much,, much higher incidence than the normal population. That in particular includes Alzheimer’s.

    • Cyborg119

      DUH !!!!! Flash – Alert –

      Isn’t it women that regularly go to a Beauty Salon all their life?
      Isn’t it true that some may go weekly for root touch up when they get older?
      Go to any retail store that sells hair dye or other hair products. Read the list of chemicals. Write them down on a scrap of paper.

      Go home and look each of them up on the Internet.
      When you do the search, you can search it by example >> “Toluene – is it toxic or carcinogenic” ]

  • retrokitty

    Women shave their armpits, and men generally do not. And then do not women put on aluminum antiperspirant over tender freshly shaved skin? Not saying it causes it, but not saying it’s good either.

  • TheJnotes

    I don’t believe I have seen this topic in the discussion and believe it most likely has a profound effect on women with regard to alzheimers…. “Women who are abused often suffer injury to their head, neck, and face. The high potential for women who are abused to have mild to severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a growing concern, since the effects can cause irreversible psychological and physical harm. Women who are abused are more likely to have repeated injuries to the head. As injuries accumulate, likelihood of recovery dramatically decreases. In addition, sustaining another head trauma prior to the complete healing of the initial injury may be fatal.” http://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/traumatic_brain_injury_and_domestic_violence.pdf

    Read on for more detailed info on traumatic brain injury.

  • Steve

    Can long term mental abuse be a factor. My mom has been mentality abused by my father for 50 years. He has never physically laid a hand on her. She has had Alzheimer’s for 3 years now, her mother and father lived to late 80ts never had it, her 5 siblings don’t have it.
    Do husbands mentally abuse there wives more then wives there husbands. I think if there was a study you would find men mentality abusing woman more. There should be a study to see if this is a factor causing woman to have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s

  • Genetic studies by some scientists at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology are trying to shed some light on why the difference exists. They are studying a kind of a gene that raises the risk of Alzheimer’s. They observed that women, bearing a copy of that specific gene variant were two times as likely to acquire Alzheimer’s as women lacking the gene. Another study by researchers at the University of Southern California proposes that higher risk of developing dementia in women may be linked to heart health as men generally have a greater tendency to experience fatal heart illness in middle age, and those who live past 65 are likely to possess healthier hearts which may shield the brain from Alzheimer’s.

  • Creatively

    Women have Alzheimer’s more than men because they bare more of the mental stresses in a family than men. Men depend on them a great deal for organization and many other thoughts that belong to the household. For many years, men thought they were doing the thinking, but in the long run, they were using the woman’s brain. I know from experience.

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