Are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s?

By: Dr. Pascale Michelon

In the US, two-third of the people diagnosed with the disease are women. The reason why is not clear so far. Of course, women are more likely than men to live long enough to develop the disease.  But there may be other factors such as a gene (APOE4) or the hormone estrogen. This NPR story helps us understand this a little bit better.

APOE4 is a gene that has been associated with Alzheimer’s in many studies to date. It is not because you have that gene that you will develop the disease for sure but it definitely increases your risks, and this whether you are a man or a woman. Indeed, 40-50% of people diagnosed with the disease carry the gene (while only 15-25% of the general population have that gene).

A new study found out that APOE4 may in fact have a minimal effect in men, while it would double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or Mild Cognitive Impairment in women. This finding was observed in a sample of 8,000 older adults.

There is no explanation so far for this result. The same can be said about studies that observed a potential  link between the change of estrogen level in women after menopause and increased risks of cognitive decline.

Many more studies are needed to look at gender differences in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. To date, it is recommended that both genders keep in mind the factors that may help delay the emergence of the disease, namely physical exercise, mental challenge, a healthy diet and stress management.

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