Alzheimer's Affects Genders Differently

Women with Alzheimers decline faster than men on average in all cognitive areas

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Although there's nothing that can currently prevent the decline caused by Alzheimer's, it helps to understand the disease. Research reveals that it affects men and women differently.

A recent study shows that women with Alzheimer's tend to fare worse with memory and thinking skills even if they are at the same stage in the disease as men.

"See a doctor if your memory suddenly changes."

The study was led by Karen Irvine, of the Department of Psychology in the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire in England.

Irvine and fellow researchers analyzed the findings of 15 published studies that looked at the neurocognitive skills of men and women with Alzheimer's. The studies included a total of 828 men and 1,238 women.

They focused on five main areas of cognitive skills: verbal skills, visual/spatial skills, overall memory and two types of memory — episodic and semantic.

Episodic memory is the long-term memory that involves places, events, experiences and the emotions associated with them.

Semantic memory relates more to factual knowledge, such word meanings, knowledge about the world and abstract concepts.

They found that the men outperformed the women in all five areas, based on results from a wide range of different assessments.

One of the findings that most surprised the researchers was that even the verbal skills of women with Alzheimer's were worse compared to those of men with Alzheimer's.

This is surprising because women's verbal skills tend to exceed men's in the general population.

The higher skills of men with Alzheimer's held true even when the researchers took into account differences in the people's age, education level and level of severity in their dementia.

"Unlike mental decline associated with normal aging, something about Alzheimer's specifically disadvantages women," said co-author Keith Laws, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, in a release.

The researchers are not certain what leads men to have an advantage over women in how quickly their brains decline with the disease, but one theory they proposed related to women's hormones, such as the loss of estrogen.

They also proposed that perhaps men have a greater "cognitive reserve" than women at the outset so that their brains are, in a sense, protected longer.

The study was published August 23 in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. Information was unavailable regarding the study's funding or author disclosures.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 7, 2012
Last Updated:
September 10, 2012