According to the Alzheimer's Association, two out of three Americans with Alzheimer's are women and, at the age of 65, women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing the disease, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men. Initially, researchers believed that women were more likely to develop Alzheimer's because they live longer than men. Now, researchers believe women are more susceptible to the disease because of biological or genetic variations.
Research studies conducted throughout the United States found:
- Women who carry a copy of a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer's were twice as likely to eventually develop the disease as women without the gene. Men who had the gene were only at a slightly increased risk than men who did not have the gene.
- Differences in how tau, a protein that forms tangles that destroy nerve cells, spreads in the brains of women compared to men. In the women with mild impairment, the tau networks were more diffuse and spread out than in men, suggesting that more areas of the brain were affected.
- Women with Alzheimer's in its early stages may go undiagnosed because they tend to do better on verbal tests than men, which masks Alzheimer's damage and delays treatment.
In addition, as mothers, daughters, sisters and informal workers, women are the main (and often unpaid) long-term providers for chronic disease sufferers. This responsibility can lead to stress, depression, and hypertension, of which can affect brain health.
Even with the above risks, an eight-year study found that a healthy lifestyle can decrease one's risk of developing Alzheimer's or other forms of Dementia. While no one can guarantee you'll escape this devastating disease, you can tip the odds in your favor by eating a good diet, exercising, limiting alcohol and not smoking.