Women who develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease face faster decline of their mental functioning than men in the same stage of the disease, according to a recent analysis.
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire examined fifteen studies conducted on Alzheimer's sufferers of both sexes and found that men with the disease regularly outperform women on tests that measured a senior's memory capacity and their ability to perform verbal and visuo-spatial tasks (i.e. estimating distance and depth).
Previous research has shown that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease than men, but investigation into how the disease affects the brains of the sexes differently has been sparse and conflicting.
The current study aimed to get a clearer picture of the gender-based differences of Alzheimer's and the potential causes of these disparities.
Study authors concluded that there must be something about Alzheimer's that puts women at a disadvantage. They offered several theories to explain why men and women with the disease experience mental decline at different rates:
- Hormones wreaking havoc: Studies have shown that estrogen may act as a shield against Alzheimer's disease in women. Thus, the estrogen loss that accompanies menopause could play a role in making women more susceptible to functional decline.
- Men may have more robust reserves: Cognitive reserve has emerged as a proven buffer against symptoms of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. As a gender, men may have more exposure to reserve-building activities (higher education, unique experiences, a challenging professional career) than women.
- It could be in the genes: The primary genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease—the APOE genotype—has been shown to have a more detrimental effect on the cognitive functioning of women than men.