By Hana Frenette
While there’s still a lot of unknown when it comes to the world of Alzheimer’s disease, studies have found that women are more likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease than men.
New research has concluded that women in their 60s are almost twice as likely to develop the disease, with a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s compared to men in their 60s, who have a 1 in 11 chance.
For decades, part of the high risk factor for women was attributed to longevity, as women statistically live 4-6 years longer than men and age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have identified additional risk factors that continue to place women at a higher risk for the disease:
Genetics play a huge role in elevating the risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. In the 1990s, scientists at Duke University concluded that a person carrying the gene variant known as ApoE4 was more likely to get the disease. The ApoE4 gene is a recipe for a protein used for transporting fatty substances throughout the body and is important for brain function.
In 2014, researchers at Stanford University discovered that having a copy of ApoE4 gene variant doubles Alzheimer’s risk for women but not for men.
Research from the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center shows that tau protein, a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s found in the brain, spreads faster in a woman’s brain and is dispersed more easily.
Additional studies also point to estrogen and it’s neuroprotective qualities. Once women go through menopause, their levels of estrogen drastically decline. Due to conversion pathways from testosterone, older men often have higher levels of estrogen than post-menopausal women, which many researchers believe could be a contributing risk factor for women.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at San Francisco and Boston College tracked 6,836 American women born between 1935 and 1956 over roughly 20 years and found that women who worked for a wage throughout most of their life had better memories as they aged and were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who never worked.
Another risk factor for later-life Alzheimer’s disease is lower or reduced education. Studies show education plays an important role in improving cognitive reserve—the brain’s ability to cope with damage that would otherwise lead to dementia—while creating more synapses, which help brain cells relay information.
While gender differences in Alzheimer’s risk are complex, research suggests that living a brain and heart-healthy lifestyle full of healthy foods, regular exercise, restful sleep and reduced stress is a great way to reduce your risk of cognitive decline.