The fact that women live longer than men is not always a good thing. For example, it may be one reason the incidence of dementia is higher for women, than it is for men. Alzheimer’s is an example of the most prevalent type of dementia, there are several other causes.
Dementia Statistics on Woman vs Men
The statistics regarding men vs women and the rate of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have been well-known for some time. Nearly 2/3rds of the 5 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s, are women. But, scientists have been baffled as to why this is… until recently. They are beginning to get a clearer picture.
There are currently over 50 million people in the world who have dementia—including Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia—but, that number is rising quickly. It’s estimated that by the year 2050 there will be nearly 132 million people diagnosed with dementia of some origin, and most of these people will be women.
Worldwide statistics on women and dementia include:
- In Australia nearly 2/3rds of all deaths linked to dementia, involved women.
- In the United States, 2/3rds of those diagnosed with dementia are women.
- In the U.S. women over 60 are two times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than breast cancer.
- In the United States 2/3rds of all dementia caregivers are women (the stress, resulting from taking care of a person with dementia, makes caregivers more at risk for dementia themselves).
- In England and Whales the leading cause of death for women (surpassing heart disease) is dementia.
“This can’t be sustained by any medical health system – it is too much in terms of numbers, says Alzheimer’s specialist and physician, Antonella Santuccione-Chadha. “And as women are more confronted by the disease, we need to investigate the differences between the male and female specifics of it.”
Of course, the biggest risk factor for dementia—for women or men—is age. The older we are, the higher the risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The fact that women usually live longer than men, contributes to the statistics showing that more women get the disease, than men.
Factors that Raise the Risk of Dementia for Women
In addition to the fact that women live longer, there are several other factors that come into play, including:
- Women have a higher incidence of depression (which is a risk factor for dementia).
- Menopause has an impact on dementia, because female hormones (which decrease during and after menopause) help protect against Alzheimer’s.
- Female surgery that impacts hormones (such as a hysterectomy) and pregnancy complications (such as toxemia) have been linked to cognitive decline, later in life.
- Caregiving increases the risk of getting dementia.
Why Alzheimer’s Disease Progresses More Quickly in Women
Another pressing question scientists have been asking is why the dementia progresses faster in women than in men—once the disease is diagnosed. Here are some possibilities, according to researchers:
- Women perform better in cognitive and memory testing than men, which can lead to missed diagnoses, and miscalculation of the severity of the disease in women.
- The reduction of estrogen during menopause may exacerbate the rate of cognitive decline in woman with dementia.
- The lack of clinical research studies that involve targeting some of the special needs of women, such as a higher incidence of depression and multiple sclerosis, may also contribute to a faster progression of the disease. According to Santuccione-Chadha, “If more women are affected by those diseases, more women are usually included in the trials.” That approach seems to have worked: “in these disease areas, we have been witnessing successful drugs,” she says.
The Future of Dementia Treatment for Women
Many experts believe that in the future, dementia may be treated very differently. For example, “Sex-specific prevention might start from having more of this information about female-specific risk factors,” says Maria Teresa Ferretti, an Alzheimer’s research specialist, at the University of Zurich.
The Women’s Brain Project (WBP) has published a recent report with a run-down of 10 years’ worth of scientific research data on Alzheimer’s, updating the data and classifying it by sex—for the first time ever. “The most obvious differences that come out of the literature are in the display and progression of cognitive and psychiatric symptoms between men and women with Alzheimer’s disease. Based on these new studies, we can design new hypotheses and figure out new ways to improve treatment of patients,” says Ferretti.
Researchers are hoping that by arranging the research data, according to sex, it will help them be able to develop more effective treatment modalities in the future.