The conventional thinking for many years has been that women are harder hit by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia because they live longer and your risk for the disease increases dramatically after the 85th year.
However, now we know that if you live to 65, one in six women will get Alzheimer’s sometime in their life as compared to one in 11 men. Why?
The answer is complicated. It could be the drop in estrogen after menopause. Or it could be lifestyle issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol — chronic illnesses that impact African Americans, especially women, at higher rates. Or it could be a genetic predisposition. Women with the APOE-e4 gene, which puts people at a far greater risk for Alzheimer’s, are twice as likely to come down with the disease than men who have have it; their risk factor only goes up slightly.
Unfortunately, the test for this genetic marker falls in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. While expensive, it might be worth it to know if you are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s so you can take steps such as losing weight, getting blood pressure and cholesterol in check; quitting smoking and doubling up on exercises for the brain to help lower that risk. Eating a balanced diet based on the Mediterranean model is also thought to lower risk for Alzheimer’s. Remember, Alzheimer’s can be present in the brain 20 years before symptoms — such as forgetfulness, confusion about time and place, personality and mood swings — show up.
Watch this video to learn more about women and Alzheimer’s disease.