Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men? Worldwide, women with the disease outnumber men two to one. Almost two-thirds of the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. More than two-thirds of the 15 million Americans taking care of individuals with the disease are women. It’s a debilitating and devastating disease that places an unbalanced burden on women at home and work. Many women have to make tough choices about their relationships, careers, and futures because of Alzheimer’s.
Dementia and all that it entails is an on-going, complex puzzle. We explore what women should know about their risk of developing Alzheimer’s and try to answer why the disease affects women more than men.
Heart Health and Dementia Risk
When you keep your heart healthy and the blood vessels pumping, it reduces the risk of cognitive decline. A good heart makes for a good brain. Scientists believe that a heart’s health affecting Alzheimer’s risk might also link to whether an individual is a woman or a man. For example, high blood pressure during midlife is widely-believed to enhance risk in women but not men, even though high blood pressure is more common in men.
As a woman, it’s vital to pay close attention to your heart when you enter mid-life. If you experience any irregularities such as rapid heartbeat, severe headaches, or chest pain, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss potential heart treatments.
The Effect of Estrogen
Another theory of why women experience Alzheimer’s more than men has to do with the hormone estrogen. While men and women produce estrogen, women typically have more of it since it’s the primary female sex hormone. However, when women go through menopause, their bodies stop making as much of it.
On the other hand, men continue to produce the hormone testosterone throughout their entire lives. Testosterone converts into estrogen inside brain cells. This means that women who have experienced menopause have lower estrogen levels in their brains than men of similar ages. Some scientists believe that since Alzheimer’s disease is more common in women after menopause, it’s plausible that estrogen plays a role in protecting the brain from dementia damage. This protective element is lost when the hormone levels decrease in women.
What You Can Do
The most important thing you can do is pay close attention to the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Create an open dialogue with your doctor to see how you can maintain a healthy heart and support healthy estrogen levels throughout your lifetime. You’ll also want to consider at home dementia care from a professional home healthcare agency. If you or someone you love does receive a diagnosis, you’ll need all the support from a compassionate and experienced healthcare team that can come right to your home.
Your health is everything. Pay attention to your body and listen to what it tells you. When you’re more in-tune with your health, you can receive the treatment and support necessary to increase your quality of life.
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