Women's risk of Alzheimer's

Posted under Blog on September 4th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

A new scientific paper has prompted newspapers to question why ‘women are twice as likely than men to get Alzheimer’s’, claiming that experts believe it’s linked to hormones. As always, the story behind the headline is far more complicated. However, there are certain differences between men and women with Alzheimer’s and Professor Glenda Gillies, Professor of Neuroendocrine Pharmacology at Imperial College London, believes more research into gender differences is urgently needed.

Interest in this topic has been spurred by a paper from Karen Irvine’s team at the University of Hertfordshire, published in the latest issue of Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.1 The authors analysed results from several studies of men and women with Alzheimer’s and concluded that women with Alzheimer’s do appear to deteriorate more quickly and more severely than men. Furthermore, women seem to be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, although the higher number of women living with the disease is largely due to the fact that women live longer than men.

On reviewing study results, the researchers found that men with Alzheimer’s disease appeared to fare better than female patients in memory tasks and verbal ability, whereas in healthy individuals, women tended to do better than men in verbal tests.

So why is the situation reversed in Alzheimer’s disease? Unfortunately, we don’t yet know. The authors suggest hormones and the loss of oestrogen in postmenopausal women may play a role. Another explanation is that men and women have different mental reserves for certain tasks and the reserves for men may help protect them slightly against Alzheimer’s. Other researchers have claimed that Alzheimer’s manifests itself differently in the brains of men and women, causing ‘tangles’ between nerve cells within different parts of the brain, which affect different functions.

Whatever the reason, there’s a clear need for more research to help understand this devastating disease and improve treatment for all patients.

  1. Irvine K et al. Greater cognitive deterioration in women than men with Alzheimer’ disease. A meta analysis. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology August 2012, iFirst, 1-10


Tags: Alzheimer's, dementia, memory loss, risk factors, Women



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