Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and more than 5 millions Americans are currently living with the disease. As life expectancy continues to rise, we can expect to see more and more cases, as it tends to affect the “over 65” demographic. While Alzheimer’s disease affects both men and women, one of the great mysteries is why it so disproportionately affects the female population. Here are some surprising statistics:
- Of the five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, over two-thirds are women.
- 1 out of 6 – or 17% – of women who have entered their 60’s will develop dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s.
- 60% of Alzheimer’s caregivers are also women.
- Nearly 1/5 of women who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s have had to retire from their careers to take on caregiving responsibilities.
As experts have studied how Alzheimer’s disease affects women and men differently, there have reported findings that may give us some insight into why women carry a higher risk of becoming Alzheimer’s patients.
- Women typically have longer lifespans than men, meaning that they are at a more significant risk for developing Alzheimer’s and dying from the disease.
- There appears to be a correlation between less educated individuals and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. From the early to mid 20th century, females were less likely to attend college and or pursue an advanced degree. For some reason, this seems to make them more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Some research has indicated that women who held paying jobs early on in their life exhibited better cognitive health once reaching the age of sixty.
- A handful of studies have proven that the APOE gene, the best-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, may have a stronger association with neurodegeneration in women. This may be due to the gene’s interaction with estrogen.
The news, however, is certainly not all bad for women reaching a certain age. There are some proactive steps women can take to help protect themselves from the disease.
- Not getting enough sleep is considered a significant risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. Between 7 and 8 hours of sleep is recommended, as is keeping a regular bedtime routine, and avoiding both caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
- Many of the risk factors associated with heart disease – such as smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure – can also impact the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Women can combat these risks by eating a nutritious diet, exercising daily, and giving up smoking.
- Staying active mentally may help resist the onset of Alzheimer’s. Seniors should engage in stimulating activities, such as doing puzzles, picking up a new hobby, or attending more social activities, can be beneficial on many levels. In fact, those seniors who kept up an active social life and spent time interacting with peers had a 70% decline in onset of Alzheimer’s.One Alzheimer’s reality that affects both men and women equally is the fear of getting ill, of becoming a burden on their caregivers, or forgetting their life and families. If you or a loved one live with this anxiety, speak with your physician first – and then look for proactive ways to protect yourself as much as possible.