More women develop Alzheimer’s disease
According to the latest statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association, 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s: a degenerative disease that impairs cognitive functioning. And women comprise about two-thirds of this total.
Various reasons are offered for the higher incidence of among women. One suggestion is that women live longer, and so are more likely to reach the age of 65, when Alzheimer’s typically occurs. A Framingham study quoted in the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2014 report, suggests that men have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease resulting in death, thereby reducing the population of men who might succumb to Alzheimer’s when they reach 65 or beyond. This translates into a significant difference in risk rates: 1 in 6 for women and 1 in 11 for men.
Another theory that was explored has to do with hormones, and the fact that the onset of Alzheimer’s is linked to amyloid production. Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are known to decrease the production of amyloid in the body, and it could be that when a woman enters menopause her reduced estrogen levels (which had served as a natural regulator of amyloids) are no longer protecting her. Nevertheless, therapies based on hormone replacement do not seem to have had any impact on reducing Alzheimer’s rates in women. Other theories have been offered, but the scientific evidence on the causes of these gender differences is very thin.
Women as Alzheimer’s caregivers
Among caregivers, women are 2.5 times more likely to provide full-time, in-the-home, intensive care to Alzheimer’s suffers, even until the later stages of the disease. 63% of all caregivers in the US are women, and it is twice as likely that a wife will be caring for her husband than the other way around. This reality is taking its toll on women, and can lead to considerable physical and psychological strain on them, their marriage, family and livelihoods.
Much more study is needed to fully understand and mitigate the biased impacts of Alzheimer’s disease on women. But it is clear that there are significant gender differences both in terms of the disease’s presence and ramifications for living with and caring for Alzheimer’s patients. This needs to be taken into consideration in research into the disease going forward..
See the full infoographic: Women and Alzheimer's: Special Report from the Alzheimer's Assocation