Is Dementia More Common In Female Patients?

When it comes to males and females, there are clear biological differences that influence overall health. On average, men typically face a higher mortality rate, being 2.1 times more likely to die from liver disease, 2.7 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS, and are 4.1 times more likely to commit suicide in comparison to females. With that being said, women face their own health issues, including conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis. They’re also more prone to mental illness, as reported in one key study. After analyzing studies from the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, it was found that women are 40 percent more likely to develop mental health conditions. In fact, women are said to be 75 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and are approximately 60 percent more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. This data was then used to uncover the differences between men and women within the book, The Stressed Sex. With so many biological differences between men and women, you have to ask yourself — is dementia more common in one sex, in comparison to the other? Since women tend to suffer from poorer mental health, does this transfer to their cognitive health and level of functioning long-term?

Dementia Is More Common Among Women

For years, it was believed that rates of dementia and, more specifically Alzheimer’s, were due to the fact that women live longer than men. Although women can expect a longer lifespan on average, this gap is beginning to close — men’s health appears to be improving, whereas women’s health is not. As researchers began focusing on additional factors, it became evident that there may be contributing factors that are beyond longevity. Let’s put it this way — by the time women are 65, they experience a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, in comparison to a 1 in 11 chance for men. While focusing on the approximate 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s, 3.2 million are women — so, it’s easy to say that rates of dementia are disproportionate between males and females. Why is this occurring? Is there any way to intervene?

What Factors Influence This Difference?

As mentioned, age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia, so it makes sense that women experienced higher rates compared to men. Now, researchers are beginning to question this logic, as women only live an average of five years longer. This is relevant due to the fact that Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, generally begins around 20 years before a diagnosis is made. In 2014, a key discovery was made regarding the gene variant known as ApoE4. This study, published in the Annals of Neurology, found that this genetic risk factor is largely restricted to females. Currently, ApoE4 is the strongest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so it’s interesting to see how men and women differ in terms of overall risk. We all carry an ApoE gene, however, there are three variants — ApoE2, ApoE3, and ApoE4. Most commonly, individuals carry two copies of the ApoE3 variant, gaining one from each parent. With that being said, approximately 20 percent of people will carry at least one copy of ApoE4 — increasing their risk of Alzheimer’s. While studying the medical records of 8,000 patients, it was found that when women were ApoE4-positive, they were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in comparison to their ApoE4-negative counterparts. In comparison, when men carried this genetic variant, the risk was barely any higher than men who were ApoE4-negative. In another report, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, it was stated that a specific pathological mechanism may be to blame. While focusing on young women, it’s clear that their mitochondria are protected against amyloid-beta toxicity, and also generate less reactive oxygen species and apoptogenic signals in comparison to males. Once women age, however, this advantage is lost due to hormonal changes. Since estrogenic compounds help protect against the type of toxicity mentioned above, estrogenic action may be required in older females. With that being said, to date, clinical trials involving estrogenic therapies have not effectively treated Alzheimer’s.

Gender Vulnerability Related to Alzheimer’s Disease Think Tank

Although we have unlocked clues as to why gender differences occur, there are still many unanswered questions. In order to address these areas of research head on, the Alzheimer’s Association organized top experts in Alzheimer’s, as well those who specialize in the field of biological sex. This ‘think tank’ allowed experts to identify key gaps within our current knowledge, providing an action plan to enhance our understanding. During this meeting, three main topics were discussed, including possible hormonal factors, the impact of lifestyle choices, and underlying biological mechanisms. Due to this think tank, the Alzheimer’s Association announced a new grant funding program referred to as the Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) program. At the end of the day, this program will help bridge any gaps, as researchers aim to uncover why nearly two-thirds of the 5+ million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.

Individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s should seek annual testing. Not only will this help you become aware of any possible changes, but this is a great strategy to keep your worries at bay.

If you would like to try the BrainTest 30-day free trial, you can do so here. This scientifically-validated app can help you better understand potential early warning signs of dementia. You can then discuss your results with a physician.


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Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

Comments (2)
  1. Cheryl L.

    Thank you, I learned a lot from your posts, You are a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your posts on dementia and seniors. Also, I’ve shared your web site on my facebook page!

  2. Newport Care`

    Genetic studies by some scientists at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology are trying to shed some light on why the difference exists. They are studying a kind of a gene that raises the risk of Alzheimer’s. They observed that women, bearing a copy of that specific gene variant were two times as likely to acquire Alzheimer’s as women lacking the gene. Another study by researchers at the University of Southern California proposes that higher risk of developing dementia in women may be linked to heart health as men generally have a greater tendency to experience fatal heart illness in middle age, and those who live past 65 are likely to possess healthier hearts which may shield the brain from Alzheimer’s.

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