Dementia overtakes heart disease as the leading cause of death for women in countries such as England and Australia. To be frank, Alzheimer’s shows discrimination-it attacks the women population but spares the men population comparatively. There are more than 50 million people living with dementia presently and the numbers are expected to hit beyond 75 million by 2030 and 131.5 million by 2050. In any of these statistics majority of them are women. Women are becoming more and more susceptible to the disease. It is no surprise that women have a longer lifespan compared to men and Alzheimer’s is one disease in which age plays a critical role-the older you are, the likelier you are to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Flag bearers of the Disease
Though longevity might be a risk factor there are other contributing factors that can trigger onset of the disease. Apart from suffering through the disease a solid number of women are bearing the burden of the disease indirectly also. Almost 60% of the caregivers are women and women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s compared to the 1 in 11 chance for men. Women past their 60s are at a 2-time risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to breast cancer. Intrigued by the disproportionate Alzheimer’s rate between men and women, Alzheimer’s association assigned 15 of the world’s reputed scientists to understand the cause behind discrimination in a better way. One of the scientists who studied gender differences proposed the fact that age is a criterion for Alzheimer’s and women live between 4 and 5 years longer than men but the onset of it occurs some 20 years prior to diagnosis.
Researchers at Stanford University studies about 8,000 individuals for the presence of a specific gene ApoE-4 that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. It was seen that women with this gene were twice likelier to develop Alzheimer’s compared to women who don’t carry the gene. Whereas, men who carried the gene were only slightly at an elevated risk compared to men without the gene. The researchers theorized that it might be due to the interaction of the gene with the estrogen hormone. Another study proposes that it might all be linked to heart health. Heart disease strike men during their middle age and hence those who live past 65 are likelier to bear a healthier heart. This protects their brain from Alzheimer’s attack. Two other researches concluded that dementia rates in UK decreased by 20% and the major contributors for this were men over 65 years. Professionals look at this as a result of effective public health campaigns against smoking and heart disease, both of which are major risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Women are likelier to suffer from depression and depression can trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s. Also, being a caregiver puts you at a higher risk of the disease and it is a fact that more than 60% caregivers are women which puts them at a higher risk for the disease.
Alzheimer’s is detected by looking at two toxic proteins that accumulate in the brain and studies show that there are no differences in the levels of these proteins between men and women with Alzheimer’s. But women display increased cognitive decline which proposes the fact that both genders might require different predictive values. Also, we have data that women are better performers on the initial tests which causes the physician to miss the diagnosis at an early stage misinterpreting the disease’s severity.
Cognitive tests used to diagnose Alzheimer’s rely on recalling words and stories which are a woman’s forte comparatively. So, a woman who suffers from a mild cognitive decline might score normally compared to men. Women were seen to perform better compared to men who suffered from the same level of the disease. Only in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s does a woman’s advantage get eliminated. That’s the reason behind a woman’s faster deterioration after diagnosis-she is already in the advanced stages of the disease.
Some say that the risk for Alzheimer’s is laid in the womb and affected by factors such as the environment, surrounding risk factors, diet and exercise. Though speculations and theories are many the exact reason why Alzheimer’s affects the women population more than the men remains to be unraveled. Until then, all we need to do is live a healthy lifestyle by exercising daily, eating nutritious foods and stay away from stress as much as possible. Get in touch with registered dietitian nutritionists at www.firsteatright.com who can help you with your lifestyle and eating practices.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.