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Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be the most common neurodegenerative disease that is associated with ageing. This disease results to the death of the neurons or the nerve cells due to progressive degeneration and it can result to 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.
There is an estimate of around 30 million people around the world who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease with 4.6 million new cases every year and a new case every 7 seconds.
Women are reported to be more significantly at risk of developing this disease compared to men, and this difference increases with age.
Research reveals that majority of those 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 worldwide, it suggests that around three quarters of people with dementia have not received a diagnosis, and therefore do not have access to treatment.
More and 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 in particular have conducted a review about the differences in the cognitive areas between men and women. They found that the verbal communication area where women usually have an advantage over men is the one that is quicker to decline in women with Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Keith Laws of the University of Hertfordshire led the investigation, wherein 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 as well as the factors that impact this decline.
The other cognitive areas that the current research has identified where women with Alzheimer’s suffer greater cognitive decline 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 disease may share resilience factors. Some of the resilience or protective factors of both sexes include doing puzzles and crosswords as well as their education.
But, he also mentioned that there are also sex-specific resilience factors that can implicate various care strategies when considering strategies that can improve 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 since it might be because it is also linked to exercise.
Professor Laws has placed emphasis on 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 compared to men. Previous research have identified the reduction of oestrogen in postmenopausal women may be a factor since experiencing 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 resists the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.
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