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Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be the most common neurodegenerative disease that is linked with ageing. This disease results to the death of neurons due to progressive degeneration. It can result in a decline in the cognitive and memory functions of a person that leaves them unable to perform even the simplest of the day-to-day tasks.
It is estimated that around 30 million people around the world suffer from Alzheimer’s disease; with 4.6 million new cases every year, and a new case every seven seconds. Women are reported to be more significantly at risk of developing this disease compared to men, and this difference increases with age.
Research also reveals that majority of people living with dementia have not received a formal diagnosis. In high income countries, it is estimated that only 20–50% of cases are documented. Such ‘treatment gap’ is certainly much greater in low- and middle-income countries, with one study in India suggesting 90% remain undiagnosed. Sadly, if these statistics are further assessed to other countries, it suggests that around three-quarters of people with dementia have not received a diagnosis; and therefore do not have access to treatment.
More research are being conducted about Alzheimer’s. More recently, one study shed light on this difference between men and women. The researchers from the University of Hertfordshire have conducted a review about the differences in the cognitive areas between sexes. They found that the verbal communication, where women usually have an advantage over men, is the one that is quicker to decline in women with Alzheimer’s.
Professor Keith Laws led the investigation; he analysed 298 articles that were published from 2016 to 2017, in order to examine the differences between sexes in relation to the areas where the decline in the cognitive functions are greater in women, and the factors that impact this decline.
The other cognitive areas that the current research has identified include the visual and the verbal processing areas, as well as memory.
Professor Laws has also found that men and women who are at high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s may share resilience factors. Some of the protective factors of both sexes include doing puzzles and crosswords, and their educational levels. There are also sex-specific factors that can implicate various care strategies when considering what can help manage cognitive decline.
Resilience factors that are specific to women are being married, living with a partner, lower BMI, and alcohol use; while men may benefit from seemingly random factors such as pet ownership, which might be because it can be linked to exercise.
Professor Laws highlighted the small effects that can have important consequences on how men and women might need more sex-specific approaches to their treatment and care.
Even with this, there could still be various reasons as to why the cognitive functions of women may be more adversely affected by the disease. Previous research have identified the reduction of oestrogen in postmenopausal women as a factor, since menopause may diminish the cognitive functions like memory. Another aspect to consider is that men have more ‘cognitive reserve’ since they have traditionally spent more hours in work that then enables them to better resist the impact of Alzheimer’s.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.