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Published on August 13, 2014

The Female Factor: Women and Alzheimer's Disease

August 13, 2014

older man and woman standing next to each other on a beachResearch recently conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that women older than 60 are twice as likely as men to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

While breast cancer may come to women’s minds as they consider the conditions that come with aging, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that Alzheimer’s disease actually presents an even greater risk.

Frequency in Women

According to a recent Alzheimer’s Association study, women age 65 and older have a one in six lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—a stark contrast when compared with the one in 11 risk for men.

So the question becomes, why are women at a greater risk? According to research conducted by Stanford University, the answer may be genetic. Stanford researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 patients at 30 Alzheimer’s centers across the United States. They found that female patients who carried a copy of a gene variant called ApoE4 had a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The gene variant identified by the Stanford researchers may explain why two-thirds of the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, as reported by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Caretaking Trends

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that while women represent a majority of Alzheimer’s patients, they are also responsible for a majority of the caretaking responsibilities associated with the disease.

In 2013, 15.5 million friends and family members provided approximately 17.7 billion hours of care to loved ones free of charge. More than three in five of those caretakers were women.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that the demands of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia have taken a toll on women who work outside of the home.

  • 20 percent of working women vs. 3 percent of men cut hours from full-time to part-time
  • 18 percent of women vs. 11 percent of men took a leave of absence from their jobs
  • 11 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men gave up their jobs
  • 10 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men lost benefits from their jobs

Early Signs

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease present in a number of ways. The early signs of the disease can be recognized in aging adults, but only if you’re aware of what to look for. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed 10 signs that aging adults and their caregivers should be aware of. This list represents some of the 5 most common.

Mood and Personality—If you notice extreme changes in your loved one’s mood or the personality, take note. A mother who is normally happy and motivated may suddenly become depressed and withdrawn, shying away from time she used to enjoy with grandchildren or other family members.

Routine Tasks—Routine in daily life may become difficult or impossible at the onset of the disease. Trouble with budgeting and bills, or even forgetting work tasks or the rules to a favorite card game, are common.

When and Where—Maybe you went to the grocery store and forgot why, or you receive a phone call that your mother was found confused at the local park. Forgetting important dates, losing track of the seasons or ending up at a common location but not knowing how are all indicators of a larger problem.

Words and Letters—New problems with speech and writing may arise at Alzheimer’s onset. A loved one might not remember how to write a check or spell, or you may forget the names of common objects.

Memory Troubles—All aging adults say they have trouble with memory, but the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disrupts daily life. A mother or sister may repeatedly forget tasks associated with daily life or have to ask for the same information multiple times.

For more articles about women's health, visit the health and wellness section of


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