Feb 112016

Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Nearly two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women and two-thirds of the more than 15 million Americans providing care and support for someone with Alzheimer’s disease are women. This devastating disease places an unbalanced burden on women at work and at home, forcing them to make difficult choices about their careers, their relationships and  their futures.

As real a concern as breast cancer is to women’s health, women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop AD over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.

So why does this disease seem to affect more women than men? At first glance, the answer may be that women generally live longer than men, making them more likely to reach the ages of greater risk. However, there is emerging evidence that suggests there may be unique biological reasons for these differences beyond longevity alone. These biological underpinnings may contribute to the underlying brain changes, progression and symptom manifestation in Alzheimer’s disease.

There is evidence that biological sex differences may affect mortality in men differently than women, but how that affects Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia incidence is not clear. Do hormones play a role? What about our genes? Do lifestyle components such as sleep patterns, stress and depression influence sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease?

To tackle many of these questions head on, the Alzheimer’s Association convened top experts in the field of biological sex and Alzheimer’s disease to explore these issues in depth. The “Gender Vulnerability Related to Alzheimer’s Disease” think tank identified gaps in our knowledge and next steps in research needed to advance our understanding. During the think tank, three main topics were discussed: underlying biological mechanisms, the role of hormonal factors and the impact of lifestyle factors.

As a direct result of this think tank, the Alzheimer’s Association announced the new Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) grant funding program, aimed at supporting scientific investigation that addresses the gaps in our understanding of the role biological sex and related genetic, biological, lifestyle and societal factors may play in increasing vulnerability for Alzheimer’s. Additionally, projects funded through SAGA will help meet a need to incorporate learnings from the developing biology fields to merge the expanding field of sex biology research with Alzheimer’s pathophysiological studies.mariacarrillo

As with all of our grants, applications for SAGA funding will undergo the Alzheimer’s Association’s rigorous peer-review process. I look forward to sharing more about these grants when they are awarded later this year.


About the Author: Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., is Chief Science Officer, Medical and Scientific Relations, at the Alzheimer’s Association.

SAGA was made possible from the generous support of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Research Initiative (WARI), a campaign that supports research grants specific to sex-biology and gender issues in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. To date, the Alzheimer’s Association has raised $1.6 million for the initiative, including a generous $1 million in support from the Sigma Kappa Foundation.


  18 Responses to “Why Does Alzheimer’s Disease Affect More Women Than Men? New Alzheimer’s Association Grant Will Help Researchers Explore That Question”

  1. Both my mother and sister had ALS. I am worried as I have a low thyroid condition and have always had a bad memory. I do not want to get ALS and would appreciate any advice from you.

    Thank you,

    Joan Legnere

    • Sorry this is not response to your request. But I wanted to share with you and the rest that I just attended a talk at AZ
      QFFICE GIVEN BY WELL RESPECTED Neurologist. He said in USA And Germany Cases of AZ are down 25%. They
      attribute it to diet and exercise.He discussed diet as eating vegetables and fruit

      , white fish at least once a week.etc. He said walking is great but if you are elderly and can play the piano that is fine.
      He discussed how a lady in a AZ home for patients played the piano. She exercised her mind and body and rest of
      patients began to join in singing.,using their brains.

    • · If you are concerned about yourself (or a loved one), we encourage you to speak to your healthcare provider and get a thorough evaluation. Some helpful tips and useful questions for your doctor visit are at: http://alz.org/alzheimers_disease_visiting_with_y

      · For a quick initial check, the Alzheimer’s Association has the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's at http://www.alz.org/10signs.

      · If you have basic questions that you want answered right now – or any time in the future – the Alzheimer's Association provides a national, toll-free, 24/7 telephone helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

    • Joan, i’m no doctor but it sounds like you may have a Candida overgrowth. I had similar symptoms so I researched the web for months and did a lot of reading on the subject, ask yourself if you’ve been on several rounds of antibiotics, steroids, birth control pills? The best web-site I found to fight candida was Healingnaturallybybee. Please check it out. Candida has been linked to brain fog, thyroid problems and other autoimmune disorders. Some researchers are now even linking it to alzheimers which kind of makes sense. A good diet is key, and exercise-no junk food sugar alcohol yeast wheat caffeine and more. Basically, good food, good vitamins. If it is brain fog due to a candida overgrowth by eating right no cheating your symptoms should improve overtime. It helped me and I hope it helps you. Good luck to you and your family.

  2. Since Alzheimers is actually a fatal illness and engenders more long term suffering than often cancer causes, why are not Alz patients considered candidates for assisted suicide?

    Is there any movement within trhe association to debate and consider this question, or assist Alz patients to get assistance?

  3. Hmmm… Why so much research aimed at everything BUT cause and effect? Without knowledge of what causes the disease, we are just treating symptoms and learning how to live and/or survive with drugs to treat symptoms. Are we just funding drug profits? At the expense of finding the cause? Just Sayin'….
    – Karen Alexander, caregiver of mother, and NOW father…. Austin, Tx

  4. I hope they will consider the new findings on the increase in AZ in men who have had prostrate cancer and have been treated with hormone therapy. Appears hormones may play a role

  5. Could it be that women are more likely to take mind altering substances that interfere with their clarity? I know a number of women who do. They take antidepressants…which don't really help, although they are determined they do, and they take pain killers that they don't need. In addition, so many drugs have so many side effects.

  6. Karen, Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a treatable cause of Alzheimer’s Disease,

    according to Dr Clifford Saper, head of the Dept. of Neurology at Berh Israel Medical College. and professor at Harvard Medical School.

    Have your parents tested for OSA and treat with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) if positive

    for OSA. Studies have shown significant improvement, but long term studies are in the works and haven’t been completed yet.

    PS: By preventing apneas, the brain can eliminate PRIONS (missfolded proteins that destroy neurons) and reduce brain damage.You should have a sleep test yourself, because both AD and OSA are hereditary.

  7. I am totally into finding out all that I can about ALZ. my Mom died at age 93, had developed a memory loss at age 75 and went downhill from there even though she was never diagnosed with ALZ.
    I have read many articles and books; and attend events at the Cleveland clinic, I have a Masters degree in Social Gerontology; but still do not feel that I know enough about this mentally debilitating illness.
    Any information you can share with me will be greatly appreciated.

    • Loretta,

      The Alzheimer’s Association’s website – http://www.alz.org – has a wealth of information about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, from the basics to the latest areas of research we are funding. There is an Alzheimer's Association office in your local community; there are more than 300 points of service across the U.S. To find information near you, go to http://www.alz.org!


    • Barbara,

      Alzheimer's disease is very complex, and there are multiple factors that may impact an individual's risk for developing this disease. More information about some of the known risk factors can be found at: http://alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_fac…. These include age, family history, head injury, genetics, and several other factors.

      A recent review of the scientific literature highlighted 10 actions and conditions that are important for brain health. More information is at: http://alz.org/10ways. Families who access a support network in their community – such as contacting the Alzheimer's Association – have improved long-term outcomes for the person with Alzheimer’s and the care partner and family members.

  9. Hi Dr. Maria

    Alzheimer’s disease is definitely a mystery which needs to be unraveled soon. Although I agree with some of the other participants above that the focus should be on finding the cause, but I do not deny the importance of research of why it affects women, more than the men. I personally feel that if this research becomes successful, it would also lead to the basic cause of Alzheimer’s.

  10. A very interesting post. I agree that coffee definitely has all these effects, however, in spite of all its benefits; caffeine should still be consumed in moderation. Excess of anything is bad and excessive consumption of caffeine may contribute in developing an addiction with symptoms like headache, dizziness, depression, irritability and confusion. An ideal amount of coffee is within 400miligrams. Not more than that.

  11. It is no surprise to me that more women than men get Alzheimer's – many women suffer from chronic menopausal insomnia (as I do), and both chronic lack of sleep and over the counter remedies for this have both been cited as possible causes for Alzheimer's. Go figure … Where does that leave me, with two generations of Alzheimer's in my family and precious little sleep these days!!?

    • Hi All, my mother has early onset dementia and one of the books that helped me understand the disease is, The End of Alzheimer’s” by a Dale Bredesen. I highly recommend it.

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