Written by Josh Horsman
Dementia is a global health challenge with the condition affecting 50 million worldwide. The term describes a range of conditions which affect the brain and cause symptoms ranging from memory-loss and confusion to impaired judgement to behavioural changes & mood-swings. The most common form - Alzheimer’s Disease - predominantly affects those aged 65+, meaning that age is a factor commonly associated with Alzheimer’s. But gender is also a significant, although less well-known, factor in who is affected by Dementia.
Of those 50 million people living with Dementia worldwide, it’s interesting to note that a, not insignificant, majority are women. In fact, of all those living with Dementia in the USA, a massive two-thirds are women and the statistic is similar in Australia. Dementia is also the leading cause of death for women in most parts of the United Kingdom.
This is a surprising and initially confusing set of statistics, but it does make sense in the wider context of modern scientific understanding of the causes and risk factors of Dementia. Age, as already mentioned, has long been associated with Dementia and is indeed a risk factor for most common types of Dementia. It is understandable then, that if women are typically living longer than men, they will be more likely to develop Dementia.
Lifestyle is, however, another increasingly important risk factor for Dementia and it can help to explain the relationship between gender and Dementia. Science has provided an increasing body of evidence in recent years that lifestyle factors and lifestyle-related conditions are also significant risk factors for Dementia. Men have historically been more likely than women to smoke and drink to excess and develop heart-disease, diabetes and other conditions which scientists have linked to increased risk of Dementia. However, in the past 20 years, effective public health campaigns and a stronger understanding of nutrition has meant that people are following healthier lifestyles, which has led to a fall in the numbers of new Dementia cases, primarily driven by a fall in the condition amongst men aged 65+.
Other factors which also serve to explain why more women develop Dementia than men include depression, which has been identified by scientific research as a risk factor for Dementia and affects more women than men. Other, female specific, factors may also explain the statistics with pregnancy and menopausal complications also linked to a higher risk of cognitive problems later on in life.
Does Dementia Affect Men & Women Differently?
Research into whether men and women experience Dementia differently is still at a very early stage and while it is an area of interest, there is not yet sufficient evidence or even studies. What is known, however, is that women are thought to perform better than men on cognitive tests which are used to diagnose forms of Dementia such as Alzheimer’s. This can mean that women are often diagnosed when they are a later stage in the condition than men, therefore they appear to decline more quickly following diagnosis.
The relationship between gender and Dementia is certainly ripe for future research, but initial evidence is fascinating.
For more information on Dementia and to find the tools to build a healthy lifestyle that could significantly reduce your risk, try the free MindMate app now!