Dementia is often confused with amnesia, which is characterized by the loss of short-term or long-term memory due to an eliciting trigger such as trauma or clinical disease. It is quite often temporary, but in severe situations, can also be permanent.
Dementia, on the other hand, is characterized by progressive or gradual loss of cognitive function, leading to forgetfulness, impaired functionality and judgment, and lack of problem-solving behavior.
While dementia is characterized by a host of different types, all of which differ in etiologies, disease progression, and management, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is attributed to be the most common yet the most debilitating type of all.
The Truth Behind Alzheimer’s and Its Biases Towards Gender and Sex
Alzheimer’s is an elderly disease, which typically affects people beyond the age of 60. AD is a mentally crippling disease; significant loss of memory leads to dependency and the inability to perform simple day-to-day functions. Patients with Alzheimer’s usually require social support and palliative care from family, friends, and hospices.
With over 6.2 million Americans combating Alzheimer’s on a daily basis, the disease, ironically, affects twice as many women as men. Statistics suggest that one in every five women suffers from Alzheimer’s once they cross the age of 65. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s is notorious for affecting twice as many women as those who have breast cancer, hereby topping off as the most fatal disease on the list.
Alzheimer’s is not only biased towards women with regard to first-hand suffering, but also against those who pose as caregivers for people living with the disease. With over 3.8 million women suffering from Alzheimer’s, around 60% of caregivers for people with dementia are also women.
So, here is where the question arises. Is Alzheimer’s to blame for its genetic predisposition in women, or is America’s healthcare system biased towards women sufferers?
Reasons Behind Alzheimer’s Prevalence Amongst Women
The ‘Tau’ and ‘Amyloid’ are two types of proteins that accumulate in the brain, thus causing Alzheimer’s Disease in old age. The tau protein is normally responsible for stabilizing the framework of neurons. However, too much build-up of tau protein can affect the neurons which are specifically involved in memory and learning. Amyloid, on the other hand, is another protein that is usually found in the body during the onset of a rare disease, such as amyloidosis.
Alzheimer’s is just another disease in the spectrum where sex and gender are recognized as one of the highest risk factors. According to researchers from the University of Miami, men and women both have genetic sequences which might prove to be one of the causative factors behind Alzheimer’s. Similarly, Stanford University declared a gene, ApoE-4 to be implicated in the disease and concluded its presence in women to be a high-risk factor.
Age, Hormones, and Longevity of Life in Women
It is said that women live longer than men, thereby being more prone to develop Alzheimer’s Disease as their age advances than the latter. According to Vina and Lorett, young women are protected against amyloid-beta toxicity during adolescence and adulthood, but that barrier might weaken as age progresses.
From menarche to having regular periods to having menopause in middle age, women experience different hormonal changes throughout their lives.
There is some evidence that estrogen plays a role in protecting women from developing Alzheimer’s at a young age. Estrogenic compounds influence the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the body) to combat amyloid-beta toxicity and thus, release apoptogenic (leading to cell death) signals in lesser amounts as compared to that in men.
Due to menopause and the lack of estrogenic compounds in middle-aged women, the body loses its ability to ward off the toxic buildup of free radicals. This might make a woman’s brain more vulnerable to amyloid build-up, leading to the destruction of memory-dependent neurons and thus, Alzheimer’s.
Women had always been on the lesser side of receiving constitutional rights and education in the past. This disparity in knowledge and education led to unawareness of the overall impact of physical and mental diseases on one’s health. Known commonly as ‘cognitive reserve,’ women were (and are) more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s due to increased exposure to social biases and lack of awareness than men in society.
Biases Towards Women Caregivers
About 83% of caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s are middle-aged women belonging to the same family as the patient. Around 19% of working women suffer from workplace conflicts and consequently, quit their jobs due to overwhelming stress and the burden of caregiving responsibilities. This means that the caregiving woman is not only doing unpaid labor but also tackling the mental toll of being a full-time caregiver without a stable income.
As per a study, around 23.5% of caregivers reported anxiety, with 10.5% corresponding cases of depression, as per a study. Without sufficient physical and mental support, the average Alzheimer’s caregiver is at high risk for developing morbid mental health illnesses.
Who to Blame? Alzheimer’s or Gender?
While Alzheimer’s is influenced by environmental factors such as head trauma, alcohol, and autoimmune diseases, its prevalence is mostly governed by age-related genetic and protein changes in the brain. It is true that women and men have genetic and hormonal differences, but more research is required to conclude why the former are more likely to suffer from the disease.
Meanwhile, if your loved one is suffering from cognitive disabilities due to Alzheimer’s or has any of the symptoms of dementia, please consult your primary care physician. Alzheimer’s warrants a clinical diagnosis – delaying it will only prevent both the patient and caregiver from the best kind of healthcare.
Book an appointment with our neurologist and get a consultation regarding your loved one’s forgetfulness today. If you are a primary caregiver to a patient with Alzheimer’s in your household, book an appointment with our psychiatrist at Manhattan Medical Arts and talk about your experience.
Take matters into your own hands – prevent yourself from living a troublesome life with Alzheimer’s.
– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.
About The AuthorDr. Syra Hanif M.D.
Board Certified Primary Care Physician
Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.Read More