How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Women and Men Differently

April 21, 2021

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, is becoming more prevalent as the average life expectancy continues to increase. Today, more than five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. The disease typically occurs in those over the age of sixty-five, but approximately 5% of the five million will develop early-onset Alzheimer’s.

While Alzheimer’s disease does not discriminate when it comes to gender, women are disproportionately affected by it.  Consider the following statistics:

  • Approximately two-thirds of the five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Women in their sixties have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
  • More than 60% of dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers are women.
  • About 19% of women providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s have had to quit their jobs to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities.

As researchers continue to study how Alzheimer’s disease affects women and men differently, there have been some findings that may explain why women have a higher risk of developing the disease:

  • Women generally live longer than men, which means that they are more likely to reach ages of greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
  • It is believed that those who are less educated are at a higher risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. In the first half of the 20th century, women were less likely to attain higher education, making them more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Some studies have shown that women who participated in the paid workforce earlier in life had better cognitive health after the age of sixty than those who did not.
  • Several studies have shown that the APOE gene, the best-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, may have a stronger association with neurodegeneration in women, which could be due how the gene interacts with estrogen.

Though some of the risk factors that put women at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease are uncontrollable, certain lifestyle changes may lower that risk:

  • Poor sleep habits have been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Experts recommend getting 7-8 hours of sleep, maintaining a regular bedtime routine, and abstaining from caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Many risk factors associated with heart disease, including obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Work toward reversing these risk factors by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking.
  • Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, like learning a new hobby or interacting with peers, has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. One study saw socially active seniors’ potential for cognitive decline reduced by as much as 70%.

Regardless of the statistics, recent surveys show that women and men are equally concerned about developing Alzheimer’s disease, becoming a burden on their families, and potentially forgetting their loved ones. If you or a loved one live with these fears, we suggest scheduling an appointment with your trusted family doctor to discuss your cause for concern.


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