In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Greenville OB/GYN wants you to know more about how the disorder skews female. There are more than 5 million people across the country living with Alzheimer’s today and 3.6 million of them are women. If you are over 60, you are twice as likely to develop this fatal disease (20%) as you are to have breast cancer.
Part of the reason why this disease has been so devastating is due to the general lack of knowledge about how the disorder both develops and manifests in different people. Thankfully, there is more emphasis being placed on the role that gender plays, which could potentially bridge some of the gap. We’ll look at what we do know about Alzheimer’s and what women can potentially do to prevent it.
1. Prevention Is Our Best Hope
Alzheimer’s is thought to be linked to plaque in the brain cells from an abnormal amount of protein. There are medications available for women to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but there is no cure. It leaves doctors and researchers alike to pin our hopes on prevention plans that are specifically tailored to women and their needs.
For the most part, previously conducted research has approached this disease as if it were the same for both genders. However, it’s quickly become evident that women have special needs. For example, those going through menopause frequently experience memory problems. Because estrogen helps regulate the hippocampus, the loss of the hormone can affect the ability to form new memories.
2. It’s Unclear Why Women Are More Affected
There are plenty of theories as to why women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s. Many hypothesize that because women are more likely to live longer than men, they have more time to develop it. But there have been new guesses posited that range from social to genetic connections.
For example, one study found that women who have a particular gene variant are twice as likely to develop it than those without, likely because of the way the gene and estrogen react to one another. This would explain why men with the gene did not face the same risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Other links include obesity, an inactive lifestyle, and mental health disorders, such as depression. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of various factors.
3. Lifestyle Changes May Help
There is nothing to say that a woman taking all the right precautions will not still suffer from Alzheimer’s, only that she may reduce her chances by making changes. Lifestyle adjustments can include switching to a heart-healthy diet, getting more social interaction, and making the time for 7 – 8 hours of rest.
This disease begins long before it’s ever diagnosed, which is why it’s important for women to think about it long before they reach their 60th birthday. By some estimates, a woman could live with it for 20 years and not even realize it. Many of our Alzheimer’s prevention tips are similar to general health recommendations, making them especially important for women to follow.
4. Women Are More Likely to Be Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Not only are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, but they’re 2.5 times more likely to live with and care for someone with dementia. Caregivers are also more likely to develop mental health issues, such as depression. Between the tax on mental health and the potential genetic component, it could make family caregivers that much more vulnerable to the disease.
These sobering statistics have spurred different Alzheimer’s organizations, such as the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement to develop ways to both remove the stigma of Alzheimer’s and better support family caregivers.
5. Consistency Is the Key
As with our general health, protecting the brain has to be a daily choice. Things like a low-impact exercise routine and a low-cholesterol diet can be invaluable to ward off Alzheimer’s, but it needs to be done every day. When women lead such busy lives, they need to make the conscious effort to do more for themselves.
As simple as this all sounds though, it’s been difficult to implement lasting habits. This is because women, in particular, have certain constraints and restrictions that they can’t always cut out of their life. Part of turning the tides means starting small rather than making a drastic U-turn. It could be as pleasant as seeing your friends more often.
It’s projected that one person will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds by the time 2050 rolls around. When it’s already the sixth leading cause of death, all women need to make brain health a priority. If you’re concerned about your risk levels, contact Greenville OB-GYN to find out more about what you can do to combat this disease.