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Published: Jul 23rd, 2015

Study: Cognitive Impairment Progresses Faster in Women

Study: Cognitive Impairment Progresses Faster in Women
Article Updated:October 2nd, 2019

The BBC reports that globally, 75 million people will live with dementia by the year 2030 and 131.5 million by 2050. The majority are women. In the United States, women who reach the age of 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as they are breast cancer. In general, long-term care always impacts women more than men due to longevity. Make no mistake, men require care and suffer from cognitive decline. However, women become the first caregivers for their husbands and once they require care or supervision they live longer and spend more money on their care.

Being a Caregiver Increases Risk of Cognitive Decline

Basically as you get older you are at higher risk to develop some type of dementia. That’s not all. It has long been established that being a caregiver impacts health, often these caregivers are often women. Now research shows it may also increase the risk of developing dementia. Just being a caregiver is, in itself, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Women with mild cognitive impairment that can lead to Alzheimer's disease appear to deteriorate faster than men, according to new research.

Researchers at Duke University collected data from 400 men and women in their mid-70s who experienced mild cognitive impairment and followed up with them over the course of eight years. Using a standard test called the Mini-Mental State Examination, researchers found that thinking and memory deteriorated twice as fast in women as it did in men. Male study participants saw their examination scores drop an average of 1.05 points per year, while women's slipped 2.3 points annually.

"Our findings do suggest greater vulnerability in women with mild cognitive impairment stage, which is more severe than normal memory loss and is an intermediary stage between aging and dementia,"

 Katherine Lin, lead researcher

Several factors could be to blame for the increased rate of deterioration, including women being more susceptible to developing Alzheimer's-causing brain plaque, researchers said. Lin stressed that to determine exactly why women experience faster progression to Alzheimer's disease, gender-specific Alzheimer's research needs to become a higher priority among researchers.

Long-Term Care Insurance Claims Show Women at Bigger Risk

Women appear to be impacted more than men with cognitive decline and long-term care in general. The claims data for Long-Term Care Insurance appears to conform this. According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a national consumer and trade group, more women filed new claims in their Long-Term Care Insurance then men did.

33.1% of new claims for home health care filed in 2014 were for women compared to men at 18%. 28.2% of new claims for nursing homes, where many people who have memory issues would be taken care of, were for women while 7.9% for men.

Women filed more new Assisted Living claims as well.

From a planning standpoint, Long-Term Care is critically important for women. According to experts, women tend to be caregivers for male spouses and then, since women live longer, tend to need care without a spouse to help.

Dr. Luca Giliberto, an Alzheimer's investigator at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., offered another theory:

"Women may have better cognitive reserve than men -- that is, more connections between brain cells." 

Dr. Luca Giliberto, an Alzheimer's investigator at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y.

Because of this greater mental reserve, it's possible that women may start declining later than men, but progress faster once the fall-off begins, he said. In addition, Giliberto said there might be a hormonal component to the speed of decline, perhaps associated with estrogen levels.

In up to eight years of follow-up, the thinking and memory of women deteriorated twice as fast as in men, according to a standard test called the Mini-Mental State Examination. On that test, the rate of mental slippage in men was 1.05 points a year, in women 2.3 points annually.

Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, agreed that more research is needed to understand gender discrepancies related to Alzheimer's, which is the most common form of dementia.

Hartley said that women make up 75 percent of those who develop Alzheimer's disease.

"We also know that 75 percent of the caregivers are women, so women are carrying a big burden." 

Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association

Women and Longevity

Women live longer than men. By the time they start having memory and thinking problems, they are at a later stage in life and that might account for the faster decline, Hartley said. It's also possible that biological differences between the sexes are at work, he added.

Many people today start planning for Long Term Health Care issues like memory loss when they are younger as part of their retirement planning. Many experts indicate this is key for women and they say that this research shows why planning is essential.