Why is dementia more likely to affect women?

It is unfortunate but it is a widely known fact that dementia is more likely to affect women than it does men. This is not to say that men are not affected by dementia but there is a higher chance of your mum being diagnosed with dementia as opposed to your dad for example. In the past, researchers attributed this to the fact that women live longer than men. However, as scientists look into the increased risk of dementia in women they are finding there may be other contributing factors to the diagnosis beyond longevity. Roberta Diaz Brinton, a University of Southern California professor who studies gender differences said, “It is true that age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.” But, she went on to say, “on average, women live for five years longer than men, and we know that Alzheimer’s is a disease that starts 20 years before the diagnosis.”

Research has found that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than to develop breast cancer. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said of these risks: “There are enough biological questions pointing to increased risk in women that we need to delve into and find out why. There is a lot that is not understood and not known. It’s time we did something about it.” It has been suggested that dementia in women is linked to a lack of the hormone oestrogen after the menopause. However, controlled trials of hormone replacement therapy (HRT, which replaces female hormones) have not been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia. Once again, proving that there is no clear and concrete reason why. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine are reporting that women who carry the APOE-E4 gene, which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s, are more likely to develop dementia than men who have the same gene.

Although we don’t know the exact reason why women are affected more than men, we do know what the warning signs are. As your loved ones grow older, you should be on the lookout for potential dementia signs and symptoms. If dementia in your loved one is diagnosed earlier as opposed to later, you could make a significant difference to their lives in terms of caregiving. It is quite interesting to note that it is also predominantly women who take on the role of caring for a loved one with dementia. Women are more likely to reduce their hours or stop working to care for someone with dementia, and some even feel penalised at work for taking on care responsibilities. Women are a force in the fight to defeat dementia as well. Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the world in funding pioneering research that will make a real difference to people’s lives – now and in the future. World-class female scientists play an important role in making the breakthroughs that will take us towards this goal.

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Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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