A study of caregivers and Alzheimer’s disease show that women are diagnosed more often with the disease than men. This is evident from a 2011 report published by the Alzheimer’s Association which indicates that of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, more than 3.4 million are women.
The Gender Discrepancy Explained
There are many possible explanations for this, but the simplest may be that women just have a longer lifespan than men. Research conducted at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and the Indiana University School of Medicine reveals that Alzheimer’s and dementia need time to progress, so it’s more likely with women than men.
A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that a girl born in 2012 has an expected lifespan of 81, while a boy born the same time will probably live up to 76. The point is that women have more time to develop the condition. But there are other factors to consider aside from age.
Alzheimer’s in Men and Women – Differences
Home health care workers need to know the different symptoms that men and women exhibit. While Alzheimer’s produces certain similar results, there are significant variations as well.
• Men are more physically and verbally aggressive than women as the disease reaches its advanced stages. During this period they are more likely to wander off and engage in a socially unacceptable behavior.
• Women afflicted with Alzheimer’s become more emotional and shut themselves off from others. Hoarding of items becomes common, they get irritated when you try to help them and often cry or laugh at seemingly inappropriate instances. Women are also more likely to have delusions than men and more prone to depression.
Hormones and Other Factors
Hormones could be another reason why women are more susceptible than men, and there could be other factors as well given the discrepancies between the symptoms. According to Dr. Allen Levey, director of the Emory Center for Neurodegenerative Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Emory University School of Medicine chair, female hormones, especially estrogen, may be responsible for dementia.
There are some studies which suggest that HRT (hormonal replacement therapy) could make a person more vulnerable to dementia. Women with low or high levels of thyrotropin (a thyroid hormone) increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. It should also be pointed out that gender plays a bigger factor that thought when it comes to dementia.
For instance, men who have suffered a stroke are more vulnerable to dementia, three times more susceptible than women actually. In contrast, a stroke does not increase the risk factor for women. However, women afflicted with depression are more vulnerable to dementia than men who suffer from the same condition. Comparatively speaking, women with disabilities that prevent them from performing daily tasks are three times more likely to have dementia than men.
Studies have also revealed that when women reach the age of 65, there is a 1 in 6 chance they will develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, whereas with men it is 1 in 11. These studies also indicate that women in their mid-60s and older are twice more vulnerable to dementia and Alzheimer’s than to breast cancer.
While home health aides and medical experts know the lifespan difference is a factor, it cannot be the only one. University of Southern California Professor Roberta Diaz Brinton says that while age is the biggest risk factor, the difference on average is only 5 years, and Alzheimer’s can commence two decades prior to diagnosing.
A study conducted at Stanford University involved 8,000 individuals, and the goal was to search for ApoE-4, a gene that makes one more susceptible to Alzheimer’s and dementia. The researchers noted that men who carry the gene only had a slight risk increase compared to those that didn’t have it. Women who possess the gene, however, have two times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than women who don’t have it. The reasons for the discrepancy between the two are unclear yet, but it could have something to do with how the gene interacts with the female hormones. There is still a lot of research to be done.
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