Theory: Women May Be At A Higher RIsk For Alzheimer’s Disease
June 10, 2024

June is National Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Currently, there are more than 55 million people living worldwide with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. With a population so high, this then poses the question of who is most at risk for developing the disease. Over the years, scientists have theorized a number of reasons behind why one person may be more at risk for developing memory and cognitive-related challenges, and one of those theories has to do with a person’s sex. So, in doing our part to raise awareness, let us take a deeper look into why scientists believe women may be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Statistics Demonstrate A Higher Rate Of Alzheimer’s In Women

research shows higher risk of Alzheimer's disease in women than men

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Furthermore, women aged 60 years and older are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer. Based on these statistics, that makes a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 about a 1 in 5 chance.

Do Scientists Know Why Women Are At A Higher Risk For Alzheimer’s?

The short answer is no, not for certain. However, substantial evidence has led research to this proposal. 

One of the top supporting pieces of evidence is that women are statistically proven to live longer than men (data from 2021 showed that the average life expectancy was 73.8 years for women versus 68.4 years for men), and the odds of developing dementia become higher with age.

In retrospect, the Alzheimer’s Society notes that there are other studies that found no definitive barrier between age versus gender and its impact on the development or progression of dementia.

They go on to state that, while it’s not entirely crystal clear whether being a woman means a person may be more likely to develop dementia than a man in their same age group, it does not necessarily negate the fact, either, that sex is an important factor in understanding dementia risk. Because each gender bracket holds its own lifetime of experiences, it can be concluded that a variable blend of risk factors may be part of the reason why women seem to be at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

women may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease

Menopause May Put Women At A Higher Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease

The most obvious difference in lifestyle between men and women is that of biology and the knowledge that the female body experiences menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.  Through each of these stages in a woman’s life, the body’s sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, experience changes in quantity.

women may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease

With menopause comes a substantial drop in estrogen levels, and medical imaging and evaluation have shown that this drop can introduce a decline in the volume of “gray matter,” the cellular matter of the brain, in key regions that are also affected by Alzheimer’s disease. But a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, suggests that greater cumulative exposure to estrogen in life (such as from having had more children or from having taken menopause hormone therapy) may counter this brain-shrinking effect. 

The Alzheimer’s Society notes how research has also definitively found that most of the diseases causing dementia start developing in the brain around 10-20 years before clinical symptoms show, which for many women is around the time of their menopause.

Did You Know?

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women may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease

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We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.


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