Though the “Alzheimer’s crisis” is affecting us all, women are at the epicenter. More than two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, with an estimated 3.2 million women 65 and older nationwide who have the condition. Women are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but why is there such a disproportionate amount of women suffering from this disease?
Women typically live longer than men.
Since age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that women will, on average, live longer than their male counterparts means that women are more at risk for the diseases and conditions that are generally associated with old age.
This reasoning used to be the only thing used to explain why women were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. However, recent research is proving that this simple explanation may not be as accurate as we once thought.
Women’s brains contain more amyloid.
Amyloid is the substance that forms the sticky plaques that cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to occur. A recent study discovered that women’s brains naturally contain more of this substance, which also puts women at a higher risk for developing this disease.
Women who have had general anesthesia are more likely to develop long-term memory and thinking problems.
Another recent study discovered that the potential lasting effects of general anesthesia are more likely to occur in women than men. Though long-term memory problems are something that can affect anyone who undergoes surgery with anesthesia, for some reason women are more susceptible to these side effects, which can contribute to the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Women with cognitive impairment have a faster decline rate.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) means that you have memory problems that are worse than expected for your age but that are not yet severe enough to classify as dementia. All people with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but it seems that women with this condition are at a much more increased risk than men.
One study that looked at over 400 men and women with MCI found that women tend to mentally decline at almost twice the rate of men. This means that women’s brain cells are more vulnerable than men’s to Alzheimer’s and other memory problems. Some possible explanations for this might include the fundamental difference in chromosomes (women have two X chromosomes, while men carry an X and a Y), difference in hormones, general lifestyle choices, childbearing, diet, and exercise.
Even with all of this recent research, it is still not certain what exactly causes women to be at a higher risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s that cause decline in memory and brain functioning. However, if the answer could be determined, this could mean that specialized treatments could be developed that slow or halt the process altogether.