Alzheimer’s impacts women differently
Alzheimer’s, a disease that causes a degeneration in cognitive functioning, including memory and thought processing skills, is affecting 5 million Americans according to 2014 stats from the Alzheimer’s Association. Of these 5 million 3.2 million are women, two-thirds of the total. The disparities continue into the realm of caregiving. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be solely responsible for providing care to an Alzheimer’s sufferer, most commonly her spouse. In fact, it is reported that 65% of all US caregivers are women, who are providing round-the-clock care. So as well as being more likely to succumb to Alzheimer’s, women have a greater chance of being burdened with the intense physical and psychological challenges of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.
Why the disparity?
A lot of discussion and study has gone into understanding the increased vulnerability of women to Alzheimer’s, but to date no concrete answer has been found. It has been pointed out of course that women generally live longer than men. Alzheimer’s typically manifests around the age of 65, and more women than men tend to live to this age, thereby skewing the statistics. At 65 women face a risk factor of 1:6 whereas men have a risk factor of 1:11. However, this does not give much satisfaction. Researchers are looking at the relationship between the higher risk factor and amyloid regulators such as hormones, and how that may affect women. Hormones such as testosterone and estrogen are known to act as amyloid inhibitors, with the amyloid protein being a causative agent in Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it is theorized that a woman in menopause, whose estrogen levels are radically reduced, no longer has this natural inhibiting agent blocking amyloid production. If true, then preventative strategies such as hormone replacement therapies should succeed in reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s in older women: however to date this has not happened. Clearly, much more investigation and research is needed.
Alzheimer’s disease takes a heavier toll on women: more develop the disease than men and more are full-time caregivers. Women are less likely than men to receive outside help, burdening them with emotional and physical challenges that negatively impact their health. Future research into the disease must take into account this gender-based factor, and prioritize according.