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Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that rapidly declines ability to think, learn, organize, carry out daily activities and remember important details. It’s the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 million Americans are living with the disease — a number that’s expected to grow to 12.7 million by 2050. And almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Although there’s no current cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s, thankfully, there are ways you can reduce risk.
Neuropsychologist Jessica Caldwell, PhD, helps break down the reasons why women may be more affected by Alzheimer’s than men and offers tips that may help prevent the disease.
How Alzheimer’s affects women differently
It’s not exactly clear why women are more affected by Alzheimer’s than men, but there may be several factors at play. According to Dr. Caldwell, women tend to decline faster than men after receiving a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s. Women typically live longer than men, too, and while the No. 1 risk factor for Alzheimer’s is aging, that may not be the whole story.
“Some of the reasons might be artifacts of our diagnostic systems,” says Dr. Caldwell. “For example, we know women tend to have better verbal memory than men, and our tests rely on verbal memory. So, it is possible that women don’t get diagnosed as early because our tests miss those important verbal memory changes.”
In addition, menopause and estrogen loss are a huge area of investigation for Alzheimer’s because estrogen supports an area of the brain (the hippocampus) responsible for forming new memories. It’s this part of the brain that’s first targeted when Alzheimer’s develops, so as women age, they may be even more affected. Plus, women have a greater increase in Alzheimer’s risk, compared to men, when they carry a gene associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s. But on the other hand, there is a line of research that suggests having two X-chromosomes might put women at an advantage.
“There’s not a simple, straightforward story,” says Dr. Caldwell. “We are going to have to look at Alzheimer’s as involving our genetics, our environment as well as our own behaviors.”
For more information, the entire article is online at the Cleveland Clinic website.
Photo: Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic – during an Alzheimer’s Friends Walk