Are women more prone to develop Alzheimer’s than men?

Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, out of the over 5 million total population that has developed the disease. It has long been assumed that these numbers reflect the fact that women just live longer than men.

However, scientists are now exploring why there is a 1 in 6 chance of a woman after age 65 developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives as compared with a 1 in 11 chance in men. Scientists would hope to reveal how much of the disparity is due to a woman’s longevity or other factors.

Roberta Brinton, of the University of Southern California, presented data on gender differences at the National Institutes of Health this year, and researches if menopause could be the trigger that leaves certain woman vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

There is some evidence that a women who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will experience a more rapid decline with the disease as scans have shown a more rapid shrinkage of certain areas of the brain.

Additionally, Stanford University researchers have revealed that women who carry a copy of the APOe-4 gene (a gene known to cause Alzheimer’s risk), were almost twice as likely to eventually develop Alzheimer’s as opposed to women who do not carry the gene. The men’s risk was only slightly increased. Researchers feel that possibly this gene may be interacting with the estrogen in women.

In her studies with women and menopause and dementia, Brinton knows that menopause changes the brain.

“Estrogen helps regulate the brain’s metabolism, how it produces energy for proper cognitive function, and it must switch to a less efficient backup method as estrogen plummets,” Brinton explains in her research, as she continues to research the relationship of menopausal symptoms in women who later experience cognitive problems.

Biological differences, lifestyles, environment and heredity all factor into future research in answering questions on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease more so in the female population than the male.