AlzU Blog

AD Wisdom Pearl: Two-thirds of the 5 Million People with Alzheimer's Disease Are Women

AD Wisdom Pearl #8

According to the Alzheimer’s Association,  it’s estimated that 3.2 million women 65 or older have Alzheimer’s disease (AD), compared to 1.8 million men who reportedly have AD.  In fact, 16% of all women have Alzheimer’s(and other types of dementia), and only 11 percent of men are affected.  In addition, statistics show that many unpaid AD caregivers are women.  Overall, women comprise 60 to 70 percent of the people who care for a person with Alzheimer’s.  So, when you hear that Alzheimer’s is predominately a woman’s disease, these are the number that back up that statement. 

If you are a woman, aged 65 or older, you have a 1 in 6 chance of developing AD (compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men).  Perhaps this is because women live longer, or it could be attributed to hormonal changes that occur during menopause.  No one really knows for sure, but scientists are working diligently to find out.

The Research

Recent research pertaining to women and Alzheimer’s disease has uncovered some very interesting facts. Research suggests that not only does the incidence of AD in women and men vary according to sex, so too does the actual character of the disease.  For example, men with AD were found to exhibit more of a likeliness for behavioral symptoms such as aggression, apathy and being preoccupied with bodily functions, than women with AD. In comparison, women with AD showed more reclusive behavior, an increased incidence of hoarding, emotional lability and refusal to accept help.
The female hormone, estrogen was considered in studies related to women and AD.  Scientists discovered that estrogen has many positive effects in the brain, including:

-Improved nerve cell communication
-Increased blood flow to the brain
-Increase in brain chemicals involved in nerve cell transmission
-Reduced beta amyloid deposits (a hallmark symptom of AD)
-Lower level of damage to the mitochondria (the power plant of the cell)

Study Conclusion

In studies, women who were started on estrogen therapy, during the early stages of post menopause, were found to have received cognitive benefits.  However, “The Women’s Health Initiative Study,” established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2010,  discovered that there was an increased risk of dementia in those started on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) at 65 to 79 years of age. 

Examination of the clinical data in the study pointed to the theory that women receive the beneficial effects of estrogen to the brain when HRT is given during early menopause.  But, the benefits were outweighed by detrimental side effects from the supplemental hormones, such as clotting and inflammation, in older women.

Although researchers are gathering more and more data these days on Women and Alzheimer’s disease,  more evidence is needed before science can determine for sure, just why more women are affected by AD than men.

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