ASK THE HIPPIE
By Phyllis A. DeLaricheliere MS
There is no question that men and women are very different – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Books upon books have been written about this exact subject including a popular one: “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.” This is what makes us so interesting as human beings.
So here is another question. Is it possible then that men and women are affected by the Alzheimer’s disease differently? And if so, why and how?
FACT: More than 5.5 million Americans are diagnosed today with Alzheimer’s. Out of these millions, two-thirds are women.
FACT: Women on average live longer than men.
FACT: In the past, women received less of an education than men did. This has drastically changed since the 1940s and we now see that 3 % more women than men completed a 4-year college education in 2021.
It was often thought that because women lived longer, they were at a higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, they were less educated, which made them further susceptible.
There are studies out now that have debunked these theories, replacing them with scientific hypotheses that could give us a better look into why women continue to make up the largest portion of the Alzheimer’s population. Here is what I found.
- Women are at a higher risk of depression. Depression is associated with the “shrinkage” of the hippocampus and is linked to dementia. As we know, the hippocampus is the memory storage bank in our brains. It has been observed that, in women only, this memory storage is affected by depression but not in men. Reasons – yet unknown.
- There are grave hormonal differences between the two sexes. This is especially noted with estrogen. During and post-menopause, a women’s estrogen levels drop drastically. This causes various degrees of changes in the brain and we already know that estrogen is involved in the abnormal biomarkers in Alzheimer’s. With menopause being a predictor and subsequent lower estrogen, women are far more at risk for the disease with more than 60% of postmenopausal women developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
- Exercise is a strong supporter of a healthy body and one of the many ways to try to prevent dementia. However, with postmenopausal women, having low estrogen, they tend to exercise less, and this leaves them more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.
- Women’s bodies throughout their lives go through many metamorphoses—from puberty to child bearing, that could lead to post-partum depression and body image issues, to menopause. These changes affect the brain in ways not yet defined. But they can lead to risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
- Women tend to pass verbal memory tests quite easily, far better then men. This means that early detection could be delayed for those suffering with early onset.
Both men and women are vulnerable to the disease, but there are many ways to work on prevention. However, women must take note of the risks and continue to push for more research. This will help with improving the management of the diagnosis, and early detection, and, most importantly, the difference in treatment based on gender. The human brain in so many ways is still a mystery. What we do today can hopefully make a difference tomorrow.
Phyllis DeLaricheliere, MS is an award winning columnist and has been writing her “Ask the Hippie” article for 7 years. She was inspired by Patricia Abbate who encouraged her to write about her passion for educating those about dementia/Alzheimer’s and spreading her message. Her website is: www.askthehippie.com and her book will be available this Spring. Visit her website to get on the waitlist and to see where she is lecturing next.