There is no doubt from the overwhelming amount of research that shows that dementia affecting women is disproportionately by Alzheimer’s disease compared to men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men 2 to 1!
How Gender Affects Developing Dementia?
Despite this, science is still a long way from a complete understanding of how gender affects your risk of developing dementia. In fact, it’s only in the last decade that researchers have even begun to scratch the surface.
Age plays a major role in the development of the disease. It is not accurate to limit the cause to the fact that women generally live longer than men and are therefore more likely to develop the disease with old age.
Furthermore, it is not fully understood why women are more prone to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, one of the main theories seems to be linked to the hormone estrogen. Let’s explore a few possible reasons why women are more likely to develop dementia.
According to University of Miami researchers, there appear to be specific genes related to a risk of developing the disease by gender. What this means is that certain genes may present a risk for Alzheimer’s only to men. While others only to women. Researchers found – by studying individuals with the Alzheimer’s risk gene known as ApoE-4. Women who carry a copy of the gene are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as women without the risk gene. Men who carry the gene are at only slightly higher risk than men without it. It appears that seven other sex-related genes are being studied in relation to Alzheimer’s disease.
We shouldn’t underestimate the fact that social factors may play a role in women’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. There has been some consideration about the traditional role of women in past generations and how that may have contributed to the disproportion in Alzheimer’s between the sexes. Previous generations of females were not given the same access to education, employment and as men.
Education is an important factor in terms of Alzheimer’s disease risk. More education is well known to reduce one’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease (a concept called “cognitive reserve”), and lower education has more recently been identified as an early-life risk factor for later-life Alzheimer’s disease.
One additional thought is that it is traditionally the women’s role to act as caregivers to both children and the elderly. The level of stress that they may experience as a result could possibly influence their risk level. Furthermore, sleep deprivation during child rearing is also a key factor to consider, sleep is essential for the consolidation of memory; women tend to suffer the most during these years, with light or consistently broken sleep.
Brain imaging on a large-scale study has shown that toxic tau protein, which is a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s found in the brain. Spreads faster and more easily in a woman’s brain and is dispersed more widely. A recent study from the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center identified that the structure of tau networks is different in men and women. Women have more “bridging regions” that connect various regions of the brain. These “bridging regions” may be what is allowing tau to spread faster and easier in women, accelerating the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another key factor in the development of the disease is a build-up of the amyloid-β protein. Research has shown that estrogen may help to protect the brain from Alzheimer’s by blocking some of the harmful effects of the amyloid-β protein.
While menopausal women experience a lack of estrogen during menopause, men keep producing estrogen from the breakdown of testosterone by the aromatase enzyme consistently throughout their lives. This could certainly be one of the reasons why women are disproportionately affected by the disease.
The role of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is currently controversial in its ability to reverse the risk of dementia in peri-menopausal and menopausal women. Studies on the matter have been inconclusive and contradictory. At the present time, the potential benefits of HRT as a tool to reduce women’s Alzheimer’s risk do not outweigh the risks that come with HRT, such as certain types of cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
Reduce Your Risk
In conclusion, all these factors may be impacting the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in women. Even if there is currently no complete and guaranteed prevention for the disease. A number of factors could lower your chance of developing dementia. Here are a few steps you can take If you are looking for a solution to reduce your risk:
- Live a heart and brain-healthy lifestyle.
- Have a healthy and complete diet
- Regular exercise (at least 150 minutes a week)
- Stop smoking
- Management of physical and mental health concerns
- Restful sleep – a minimum of seven hours a night
- Social engagement is important
- Cognitive engagement will keep the brain active and vibrant – crosswords and sudoku
In particular, if you are looking for a complete diet for Menopause. We offer science-based cookery classes to modify your menu and adapt to the changes in your body’s chemistry. Without renouncing any of the flavors you love! Find out more about the class.
If you are concerned about your memory or thinking abilities, please share these concerns with your health provider.
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.