Story at a glance
- A new survey found 82 percent of women do not know they are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
- That’s despite the fact women make up nearly two-thirds of cases in the U.S.
- According to the survey, 73 percent of women have not talked about their brain health with a physician.
An overwhelming majority of women are unaware they face an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease compared to men and have not had conversations with their doctors about the aspects of their health that make them more likely to develop the disease, according to a new survey.
The survey from the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at the Cleveland Clinic found 82 percent of women do not know they are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s, despite the fact that women make up nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. At least 4 million of the 6 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. are women, and a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 5.
According to the survey, 73 percent of women have not talked about their brain health with a physician and 62 percent have not discussed menopause or perimenopause, an area of health that research suggests should be monitored closely in relation to the disease.
Recent research has suggested hormonal shifts that occur with menopause can increase the risk of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Seventy-one percent of respondents, however, said they had seen a physician in the past year and nearly 60 percent rated their health as good. Just 12 percent of women said they were aware of a potential link between estrogen loss and higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
It’s not entirely clear why more women develop the disease, although women tend to live longer than men and the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. One contributing factor may be the fact that women have stronger immune systems than men, which may result in women having more amyloid plaques than men. Amyloid plaques that cause Alzheimer’s may be part of the brain’s immune system response to fight infections, according to Harvard researchers.
“We know that women’s unique biology and experiences over the course of their lifetime do play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and this survey illustrates the need to inform women of this link and empower them to start having conversations with their providers now so they can prioritize their brain health and improve overall health outcomes,” Beri Ridgeway, Cleveland Clinic’s chief of staff, said in a statement.
As research has shown Alzheimer’s could be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes, the survey found most women are highly motivated to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, get better sleep and maintain a healthy weight to reduce their risk of developing the disease.