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Alzheimer’s hits women harder than men


Women with Alzheimer’s have poorer cognitive abilities than men at the same stage of the disease, research suggests

Dr Karran said the promise from the drug, and from two other treatments now undergoing trials, left him optimistic that a breakthrough is on the horizon Photo: ALAMY

Alzheimer’s appears to have a worse effect on woman than men, research suggests.

An in-depth review of studies on dementia shows that women Alzheimer’s have poorer cognitive abilities than men at the same stage of the disease.

The paper published in World Journal of Psychiatry suggests women’s cognitive functions are more severely and widely impaired, with men consistently outperforming women.

The detailed review of evidence found that women’s memory and thinking functions appear to be more affected by the disease, even in aspects where tend to have an advantage, such as in verbal and language skills.

The study did not establish the reasons for the differences.

But some experts believe a lack of oestrogen in postmenopausal women diminishes cognitive functions such as memory, which makes it more vulnerable if Alzheimer’s develops.

Another theory suggests that time in work protects against the disease, with men traditionally spending more of their years in the workplace, building a greater ‘cognitive reserve’, enabling them to better resist the impact of the illness.

A third theory suggests women are more likely to carry a gene APOE 4 which has been linked to Alzheimer’s, and to cognitive decline and memory problems even in healthy individuals.

Keith Laws, Professor, School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, said:


“Our findings may have important implications for variation in the risk factors, progression and possibly the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in men and women.

When it came to totting up my month’s alcoholic intake, I found to my horror that I was way over the officially recommended amount When it came to totting up my month?s alcoholic intake, I found to my horror that I was way over the officially recommended amount   Photo: Alamy

“For instance, genetics are hard to change but easier to screen, cognitive reserve is modifiable and with more women working, the next generation may suffer less. It istherefore fundamental that we continue to identify the role of sex differences to enable more accurate diagnoses and open up doors for new treatments to emerge”.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said:

“We already know that two thirds of people living with dementia are women. This could be in part due to the fact that women live longer, but it also appears that women are at a higher risk of developing dementia for reasons that we don’t yet know. This review pulls together much of the existing evidence to give us a clearer idea about the impact that Alzheimer’s disease has, particularly for women.

“The authors of the review have some interesting theories about why women may be affected by Alzheimer’s more than men – including genetics and hormones. These need to be explored in greater depth so we can understand if there are ways we can address the particular needs and experiences of women with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“However, it’s key to remember that, regardless of gender, no two people with dementia are the same and will experience different signs and symptoms. Anyone who is worried about dementia can find information and help on the Alzheimer’s Society’s website.”


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