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Why are women more likely to have Alzheimer's disease?

Old woman

Did you know that over two-thirds of the 6.2 million people in America who have Alzheimer's disease are women? This means that women are nearly twice as likely to have Alzheimer's disease as men. Alzheimer's disease is more common among women, but why is this so?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain ailment that gradually impairs memory and thinking abilities, eventually impairing the capacity to do even the most basic tasks. In the majority of patients with the condition—those with late-onset symptoms—symptoms begin in their mid-60s.



Women live longer than men.


The primary reason is that women live longer than men. When actuarial life tables are consulted, it becomes clear that a baby girl born in 2019 is anticipated to live five years longer than a baby boy: 81 versus 76 years.

Age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease; the older you get, the more likely you are to get the condition. For instance, the incidence (the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease each year) varies according to age:

Each year, four out of every 1,000 people aged 65 to 74 get Alzheimer's disease.
Each year, 32 people aged 75 to 84 develop Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease affects 76 out of 1,000 adults aged 85 and older each year.

Thus, one reason there are more women with Alzheimer's disease than men is that our society has 5.7 million older women than older men, and the older you are, the more susceptible you are to having Alzheimer's disease.

However, this is not the complete explanation.

Alzheimer's disease is more prevalent in women.


Women have a somewhat higher risk of having Alzheimer's disease later in life than men. One study monitored 16,926 people in Sweden and discovered that women were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease than men of the same age, beginning at age 80. Similarly, a Taiwanese study discovered that women had a larger likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease over a seven-year period than men. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of the Alzheimer's disease incidence in Europe discovered that roughly 13 women out of 1,000 developed Alzheimer's disease per year, compared to only seven men.

Thus, women living longer than men cannot be the whole explanation for why women are more likely than men to develop Alzheimer's disease, as women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease even among individuals of the same age.
 


Women do not have a higher incidence of non-Alzheimer’s dementia than men.


One hint to the solution to this issue is that women do not have a higher risk of having dementia from causes other than Alzheimer's disease. For instance, a study of dementia rates in Sweden discovered that women and men were equally likely to develop non-dementia Alzheimer's as they aged. The fact that Alzheimer's disease rates vary by gender but not for non-dementias shows that there must be a unique connection between Alzheimer's disease and gender.


Amyloid deposition in Alzheimer's disease may represent a defense mechanism against infections.


Another piece of the puzzle comes from Harvard researchers, who believe that amyloid, one of the pathological components of Alzheimer's disease, is deposited in the brain to combat infections. If this hypothesis is right, we may consider Alzheimer's disease to be a result of our brain's immune system.


Autoimmune diseases affect women more frequently than men.

The final piece of the puzzle is that women are approximately twice as likely as men to suffer from an autoimmune disease. Although the explanation for this difference is unknown, it is established that women's immune systems are normally stronger than men's, and several autoimmune illnesses are more prevalent during pregnancy. It is possible that women's higher immune systems evolved to shield the developing fetus from infections. Thus, as a result of their more robust immune systems, women may develop more amyloid plaques than men.



Assembling the pieces


When all of this information is combined, one possible reason why women have a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease than men — in addition to women living longer — is as follows:

Alzheimer's disease-causing amyloid plaques may be a component of the brain's immune system that fights infection.
 

Compared to men, women's bodies have stronger immune systems.


As a result, women may develop more amyloid plaques than men as a result of their stronger immune systems. This theory may explain why women have a higher risk of acquiring Alzheimer's disease than males, as they may have more amyloid plaques. Please take note of the italicized term "may." While the ideas described here are logical, consistent, and form the basis of a sound theory, they have not yet been demonstrated to be right. Additional research is required!

Summary


The course of your lifetime, you are more likely to get Alzheimer's disease if you are a woman, because women live longer than men and, presumably, because women have stronger immune systems than men.

Is this to say that if you're a woman, you're more likely to have Alzheimer's disease and have no control over it? Certainly not! Today, there are numerous ways to lower your chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Engage in aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week, such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming, or aerobic classes.
 
Consume a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, olive oil, avocados, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, as well as poultry. Consume additional foods sparingly.

Disclaimer:

No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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