Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects women. More than 65 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are women and most Alzheimer’s caregivers are also women. Conventional wisdom has long held that women are more susceptible to AD because they tend to live longer, but a growing body of research is showing that this certainly isn’t the only factor that makes women more vulnerable. Three important studies over the last few years have offered scientists new clues as to why women are more susceptible to the disease.
Women with Cognitive Impairment Decline Faster Than Men
A 2015 study conducted by Duke University scientists found that women with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) decline twice as fast as men. While people with mild cognitive impairment can live independently, they have measurable impairment and are at a higher risk of developing dementia and requiring dementia home care.
During this study, researchers tested 400 people with MCI with an 11-part test that is used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. After years of follow-up, researchers found that women decline about two points per year while men decline at a rate of one point each year.
Anesthesia and Surgery Increase AD Risk for Women
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University recently made a startling discovery: surgery and anesthesia can affect thinking and brain volume, but women are more likely to be affected. Researchers found that regardless of anesthesia type, women who underwent surgery and anesthesia had a faster rate of cognitive decline than men and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Women Have Higher Brain Amyloid Levels Than Men
Finally, researchers have recently discovered that women tend to have higher levels of beta-amyloid in their brains. Beta-amyloid plaques are a classic sign of Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid destroys synapses in the brain before it clumps into plaques, eventually leading to nerve damage and cognitive decline. According to a new study, women have higher amyloid levels than men of the same cognitive ability and age. Surprisingly, this is true even of women who lack the APOE-e4 gene that is associated with a doubled risk of dementia in women. Men who have this gene are just slightly more likely to develop AD.
While the exact reason women are more vulnerable to AD is still unknown, it’s likely a combination of factors such as genetics, a different rate at which brain cells die, and the effect of estrogen and menopause on the brain. If your aging parent has recently been diagnosed, turn to Home Care Assistance for the support both your loved one and your family need and deserve. We provide trusted Douglas County senior care, helping seniors age in place and providing families with peace of mind. Call 720-580-5378 today for more information or to schedule a free in-home consultation.