Friday, November 5, 2010

Women & Alzheimer's

A new report by the Alzheimer's Foundation shows that women are not only the primary unpaid caregivers and advocates for those with the disease, they are also becoming victims of the disease itself in disproportionate numbers.
According to a recent poll which gathered information from 3,118 adults nationwide, including more than 500 Alzheimer caregivers:

  •    60% of Alzheimer's caregivers are women.
  •    Of those women, 68% report they have emotional stress from care giving.
  •    Nearly half of these 68% rate their stress as a "5" on a scale of "1" to "5."
  •    57% of all caregivers, including 2/3 of the women, admit they fear getting Alzheimer's.
  •    4 in 10 caregivers say they had no choice about their new role.

The problem is that many of those caregivers are now being diagnosed with the disease. Women suffer disproportionately from various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's: by some estimates sixty-five percent of those currently  suffering from Alzheimer's are women. Though women are only slightly more likely to develop Alzheimer's than men, its prevalence among women is twice as high simply because women live longer, with a life expectancy of 80 years versus 75 for men. Half of all women over 85 in the U.S. will eventually develop this disease.

New research shows that hormonal differences may increase the risk of Alzheimer's in women. One study, for instance, has found that hormone replacement therapy can increase a person's risk of developing dementia. Another study found that high or low levels of a thyroid hormone called thyrotropin may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in women. Estrogen may also play a role.
Gender also seems to dictate which risk factors matter more in the development of dementia. A French study found that men who had suffered a stroke were three times more likely to develop dementia, while stroke seemed to have no effect at all in women. Yet women prone to depression were twice as likely to suffer from dementia, and women unable to live without assistance due to an inability to perform routine tasks were 3.5 times more likely to develop dementia.

Alzheimer's develops differently in men and women, and they exhibit different symptoms of dementia: men with Alzheimer's disease tend to develop more aggression than women do as the disease progresses. They also tend to wander and perform socially inappropriate actions more frequently than women diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Women on the other hand tend to become more reclusive and emotionally unstable. They hoard items more often than men do, refuse help more often, and exhibit laughter or crying at inappropriate moments. Women also seem more vulnerable to depression and to suffering from delusions.

Because baby boomers are aging and because the population of those over age 85 is reaching record levels in the U.S., the number of people with Alzheimer's is expected to more than triple by 2050. By that time approximately 8 million women will have AD in the USA.
The FDA has only approved two types of medication to improve cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as memory loss, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But there is no treatment that stops or reverses its progression. In America about $6 billion of funding is funneled to cancer research, and $4 billion is spent on heart disease research. Only $500 million has been allocated to Alzheimer's research, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Fortunately there are steps women -and men- can take to protect themselves.
Studies show that getting regular exercise, eating lots of fruits, vegetables and fish, and keeping the mind active can help ward off the disease. So can taking a pass on hormone replacement therapy, which can double the risk of Alzheimer's. If they start showing signs of confusion or memory loss, women can slow Alzheimer's progression by getting diagnosed and taking medication early.
For more information on Alzheimer's disease and dementia, visit .