Women at Far Greater Risk of Alzheimer's

By Chris Hoenig

Photo by Shutterstock

Women over age 65 are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men, according to a new report from the Alzheimer’s Association.

The study found that one in six women over age 65 will suffer through the disease in her lifetime, compared with just one in 11 men. Those stats put Alzheimer’s ahead of breast cancer on the list of diseases women are most at risk for, while other estimates suggest Alzheimer’s is nearly as lethal as heart disease and cancer.

In addition to women, Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to get the disease as non-Latino whites, and also less likely to seek a formal diagnosis. “In some cultures, we don’t contradict our loved ones or elders,” said Maria Carillo, the association’s Vice President of Medical and Scientific Affairs. “Pointing out that they’re having a memory problem tends to happen much later.”

While the Alzheimer’s Association does list some exercises you can do to keep your brain sharp, there is no real way to prevent the disease. “Anyone with a brain is at risk,” says Angela Geiger, Chief Strategy Officer for the Alzheimer’s Association. That fact is reinforced on the association’s website, which warns: “You can do everything ‘right’ and still not prevent Alzheimer’s.”

Aging and genetics are two known factors that increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but the study also found that many people don’t realize that those are just additional factors and that anyone can get the disease. Upward of 24 percent of those surveyed said they thought they were only at risk if a family member has Alzheimer’s, a number that shoots up to 33 percent of Latinos and nearly half of Asians.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80 percent of all cases diagnosed each year. While the disease develops slowly, it has an endless progression—causing memory and identity loss, causing balance problems and slowly decaying one’s ability to eat, talk and walk—and ultimately, either through the disease or one of its side effects, proves fatal. Patients eventually require around-the-clock care (many facilities specialize in Alzheimer’s patients), and usually spend between four and seven years under 24-hour supervision and treatment.

Care and treatment for Alzheimer’s patients is expected to reach $214 billion this year alone—roughly $1 for every $5 spent by Medicare will be spent on someone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Unfortunately, most of the money spent on patients goes directly into care and not into research. “We would love to see a shift in this balance,” Carrillo said. “We might be able to change this trajectory in the next decade.

“We wish we had expensive treatments to brag about, but we don’t, so it’s important to highlight that research funding and research commitments are critical for us to change that balance.”

Women end up paying a far greater professional and personal price because of the disease than their male counterparts, in part because the study found that women are more likely to also be the caregivers for someone with Alzheimer’s. According to researchers, 20 percent of women drop from full-time to part-time work in order to better care for an Alzheimer’s patient, compared with just 3 percent of men.

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