Why is Grandma Twice as Likely to have Dementia as Grandpa?
Eight out of every ten of us will have some form of dementia before we die. Here’s another stat that most of us likely don’t know. Two-thirds of the 5.8 million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s disease are women.
By 2050, that number will zoom to nearly 14 million—and 9 million of those will be women. This according to a new report from AARP. “People just don’t think about the fact that women are disproportionately affected by dementia,” says Kristine Yaffe, M.D., professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at UCSF.
Dementia: Not a disease so much as a group of symptoms
Dementia’s symptoms show a decline in memory and social abilities so that they interfere with the ability to function on a daily basis. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. But there are other forms of dementia. Women shoulder a wildly disproportionate burden in every single one of these diseases, robbing them of independence, memories, and in many cases, their self-identity.
Women’s lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is twice that of men’s.
They are more likely to be caregivers for loved ones with dementia, which takes a toll on their own financial, physical and mental wellbeing.
Women make up more than 60% of dementia caregivers.
Why are women at greater risk for dementia?
Experts assumed it was a consequence of women living longer than men—and of course it’s a factor, but not a reason. “The social and environmental influences on health play a huge role in brain health for women,” notes Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president for policy and brain health at AARP. “Women face more challenges due to lower educational levels. They have fewer economic resources, they provide more caregiving for their families and they experience more stress. All of these factors affect the risk of cognitive decline.”
Reproductive history plays a role
The age at which women get their first menstrual periods, how many successful pregnancies they have, childbearing and the decline in estrogen at menopause—all may be contributors, along with genetic factors, depression and anxiety.
Racial and ethnic disparities
Racial and ethnic disparities place women at a greater risk. Older African Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s as older whites; and older Hispanics have a 1.5 times higher risk than non-Hispanic whites. While there is little research to understand this disparity, lack of access to health care stands out as a contributing cause. Conditions such as heart disease, stress, hypertension, diabetes and obesity that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities increase the risk of dementia.
What can women do to reduce their risk for dementia?
A mounting body of research suggests that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of dementia by more than 33%.
Here are the key components of a brain-protective lifestyle:
Exercise regularly. Cardio or aerobic exercise increases blood flow, reduces inflammation and stimulates the release of growth factors, stimulating brain health.
Stimulate your brain. Puzzles, word games and challenging reading material help keep your brain in shape.
Stay socially connected. Besides helping prevent isolation and loneliness, staying connected to people you care about provides a sense of purpose and support.
Relieve stress. It’s women who juggle careers and family obligations. That’s a problem for brain health because ongoing stress and anxiety cause depression and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Work on decompressing through exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, therapy, time with friends or whatever helps you relieve the pressure.
Get plenty of good sleep. It’s remarkable what a good night’s sleep can do. The toxins, get cleared out.
Eat a balanced diet. Fads come and go. A heart-healthy/Mediterranean-style diet still makes sense.
Protect your head from injury. Traumatic brain injuries are an important risk factor for dementia, so be sure to wear helmets for biking or skiing.
Control chronic health conditions. “There’s a connection between heart health and brain health,” Yaffe says, “and hypertension, diabetes and obesity have big effects on the brain because of the vascular effects and other effects.” Take steps to prevent these health problems or keep them under tight control. “Taking care of themselves with short-term investments in their health and wellbeing will pay long-term benefits for women,” Lock says.
Many of CDP’s clients are retired or they’re thinking about retiring
Healthcare issues, particularly Alzheimer’s, are frequent topics—especially for those who may be caring for aging family members. If someone you love has been diagnosed with some form of dementia, it’s important to create a Trust while that person still has testamentary capacity.
During this health crisis, many are feeling an urgency to create a Living Trust
Note that our offices are open and we’ve instituted stringent sanitation procedures. We can also provide our services virtually.
We service the entire East Bay and North Bay areas
Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Pinole, Alameda, San Leandro, Castro Valley Newark, San Lorenzo, Concord, Alamo, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Livermore, Tracy and Fremont. Our clients also live in the Napa Valley, Benicia, Vallejo, Martinez, Fairfield.
This story is based on a story from the AARP, Dementia’s Gender Disparity: Report Uncovers Unique Challenges Facing Women, by Stacey Colino.