Alzheimer’s disease has a striking impact on the lives of individuals, but it can be especially strong for women–whether they are living with the disease or they are caregivers, relatives, friends, or loved ones of those directly affected.
So, why do we feel that women are impacted more significantly than their male counterparts? The answer is that we do not completely understand the why but we do know that Alzheimer’s dementia disproportionately affects women in a variety of ways. According to Alzheimer’s Association research, women are 2.5 times more likely to provide 24-hour care for an affected relative than males. Many of them have been forced to quit work or reduce their work schedules to do so. This can have a long-term effect on them financially, emotionally, and physically.
In addition, women make up nearly two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today. The Alzheimer’s Association states in their 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, that an estimated 3.3 million women aged 65 and older in the United States have this disease.
Researchers are passionately working to determine if or why women develop the disease at a higher rate than men. Even though women live longer than men and age is a significant risk factor, researchers suggest that longevity alone may not account for the unequal disease burden that women face. Studies have revealed that there may be distinct biological and genetic factors shaping how the disease develops and progresses in women.
The Alzheimer’s Association concludes that more research is needed to understand the different roles that genetics, hormones and lifestyle factors play in Alzheimer’s in men and women. Several factors now in the spotlight that are potentially modifiable are years of education, occupation, exercise, diet, stress, anxiety and sleep. A better understanding of these differences will be extremely important as we move forward with more effective strategies for treating, preventing, and diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
With all the unknowns, we can say that Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most critical public health issues in America. The Alzheimer’s Association is the leader in advocating for public policy issues and critical research funding. Call 1.800.272.3900 or www.alz.org to see how you can join the fight.
Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reports and excerpts from “Sex biology contributions to vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease”: A think tank convened by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Research Initiative. The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Submitted by Annette Clark, MsG, Alzheimer’s Association, Family Services Director