Many people are aware that Alzheimer’s disease is predominately a “women’s disease.” According to a recent Alzheimer’s Association report, nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Of the 5.3 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.3 million are women and 2.0 million are men.
Medical experts and scientists believe other factors (such as hormone changes during menopause) may be involved when it comes to the reason more women have the disease than men, but, much more data is needed before contributing factors can be definitively identified.
Gaps in Alzheimer’s Research
There is a missing link when it comes to Alzheimer’s research for women today. Although many organizations (such as the Alzheimer’s Association) are pushing for more research involving women and the disease, there has been very little scientific research on the impact of dementia on women – particularly those in poorer countries.
Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America are all experiencing a larger senior population than ever before and the global prevalence of Alzheimer’s continues to rise, with an estimated 70% of people with dementia living in low to middle-income countries.
A database search of academic research papers was performed to discover just how much of a gap there really was when it comes to women and Alzheimer’s studies worldwide.
The research discovered:
- A total 1689 studies initially screened
- 133 studies selected to review
- 22 studies focused on women and dementia
- 17 out of 133 papers related to lower-income countries, with most of the research taking place in North America and Europe
- Very few studies focused on women’s first-hand perspective on dealing with dementia
The Difference in How Men and Women Relate to Dementia Care
An additional factor to consider in studies on dementia is how women respond to having Alzheimer’s. With most women, adjusting to the role of the care recipient (asking for and receiving help) is different for women than it is for men. One study described a reaction of a mother with dementia who was being cared for by her daughters; her feeling was defined as one of “grateful guilt.”
When caring for a woman with dementia, conflicting emotions and family interactions are important factors that need to be addressed to help alleviate negative emotions, such as guilt.
No matter what the cause is, it’s clear that women have some special considerations when it comes to giving (and receiving care). When it comes to medical research, the ball has, without a doubt, been dropped. Scientists have a long way to go, to get a better glimpse of the big picture when it comes to worldwide research on women and Alzheimer’s.
Were you aware of the gender gaps in Alzheimer’s research? Why do you think women have an increased risk for the disease? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.