Women’s Memories Worsen Faster Than Men’s

memory3Of the estimated 5.3 million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s disease, nearly two-thirds are women. At age 65, seemingly healthy women have about a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives, compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men.

Recent studies showing that older women with mild memory impairment worsen about twice as fast as men are getting attention, as they add to growing evidence that Alzheimer’s disease may take a harder toll on women than men.

Duke University researchers recently compared nearly 400 men and women with mild cognitive impairment who were part of a large, national, eight-year study called the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, or ADNI. Mild cognitive impairment involves early memory changes that don’t interfere with everyday activities but that mark an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

The men’s scores on an in-depth test of memory and thinking skills declined a point a year, while the women’s scores dropped by two points a year. Even taking into account age, education and whether people carried the ApoE-4 gene that increases the risk of late-in-life Alzheimer’s, scientists cannot account yet for the gender differences in the rate of memory decline. The study wasn’t large or long enough to tell if women were more at risk for progressing to full dementia.

Gender differences in the vulnerability to Alzheimer’s could have implications on the design of clinical trials of potential treatments, while an understanding of why they exist may lead to new experimental treatment targets.

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