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Women’s Lifetime Risk for Developing Dementia Is Higher Than Men’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerDecember 12, 2018

There are currently more than 5.5 million Americans living with dementia and that number is expected to triple by 2050. We may never know the full economic and physical effects that the disease has on our nation. However, a new Alzheimer’s Association and Shriver Report is giving us greater insight into developing dementia, including how burdensome it can be, especially for women.

Learn more from the recent report which shows that a woman’s lifetime risk for developing dementia is higher than a man’s.

A Woman’s Lifetime Risk for Developing Dementia

A new report from the Alzheimer’s Association has found that women are at a higher risk of developing dementia than men. Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, commented on the report saying,

“Through our role in the development of “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s” in 2010, in conjunction with Maria Shriver, we know that women are the epicenter of dementia, representing a majority of both people with the disease and caregivers. Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures examines the impact of this unbalanced burden.”

The numbers are startling:

  •  Out of the 5 million people living with dementia in the United States, 3.2 million are women
  • 1 out of 6 women over the age of 60 will develop the disease compared to 1 out of 11 men
  • Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop dementia than they are to develop breast cancer

The main reason that women are more likely to develop dementia, is simply that women live longer than men and that age is still the number one risk factor for developing the disease. From that perspective, we are all at risk. As Geiger says,

“Age is the greatest risk factor for dementia and America is aging. As a nation, we must band together to protect our greatest asset, our brains.”

Risk Factors for Women

The Society for Women’s Health Research Interdisciplinary Network brought together a panel of experts to review what we know about the differences in dementia rates between genders. Because age is a leading cause of the disease and women live longer, longevity is thought to be a major factor in a woman’s dementia risk. However, longevity alone can not explain why 2/3 of people with the disease are women.

Other dementia risk factors specific to women include:

  1. Decreased educational and occupational opportunities.
  2. The dementia gene is thought to affect women differently than men.
  3. Women are less likely to exercise than men.
  4. Women are two times more likely to have depression than men.
  5. Women have a higher caregiver burden than men, which could lead to a higher risk of cognitive impairment.
  6. Women perform well on dementia diagnosis tests so that by the time the disease is caught, it is often progressed further than when detected in men.

Not only are women facing the brunt of the disease, but women are also bearing the burden of caregiving. There are 2.5 times as many women than men providing 24-hour care for a parent or senior loved one with dementia.

The burden is not just emotional. It is also financial:

  • 60% of unpaid dementia caregivers are women.
  • 20% of women exchanged their full-time job for a part-time job to act as a caregiver
  • 18% of women took a leave of absence of work to provide caregiving
  • 11% of women left work entirely
  • 10% of women lost job benefits due to caregiving responsibilities

Given this information and knowing that dementia is still one of the most misunderstood and underreported diseases, we must take action. The Alzheimer’s Association has launched a national initiative that brings attention to the plight of women against the disease. Called “My Brain,” the initiative strives to include one million women and serve as a resource for female caregivers and patients.

According to dementia experts, key areas that must be researched if we want to further understand the differences in women developing dementia include:

  1. How and when the disease is detected and diagnosed in each gender.
  2. How the dementia gene affects each gender.
  3. Sex differences in how the brain ages and develops.
  4. Sex differences in response to current dementia treatment methods.
  5. The effects of factors that only affect one gender (i.e. pregnancy, menopause).
  6. The impact of hormone therapy on brain function and dementia risk.
  7. The influence of chronic illness on men and women.

Were you surprised to hear that more women are developing dementia than men? Why or why not? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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