A Deep Dive into Women With Dementia

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Women make up more than half of the U.S. dementia population. Specifically, scientific evidence points to higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease in women, which is the most common form of dementia.

The most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age, and women tend to live longer than men. Living longer puts women at a higher risk for developing this form of dementia and increases women’s dementia incidence rates.[03] However, life expectancy alone does not put women at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

Women are twice as likely to develop autoimmune disorders in their lifetime, and their immune systems are usually stronger than men’s.[03]With an autoimmune disorder or a particularly strong immune system means more proteins in the brain, called amyloids. Amyloid proteins are known to cause Alzheimer’s disease. In general, the more amyloids someone has, the more likely they are to develop Alzheimer’s.[03]

Women also have a higher risk of depression than men. Depression affects areas of the brain that involve memory, meaning that women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease if they experience depression.[04]

Differences in heart health are associated with different levels of dementia risk. Women with good heart health have shown a lower risk of developing dementia later in life.[05] While women tend to have healthier hearts than men, this advantage disappears when women enter menopause. Postmenopausal women fall below men’s rates for heart function due to the loss of estrogen [06], causing them to lose a potentially protective factor against dementia.

Furthermore, pregnancy and menopause may expose women to conditions that increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Women who experience hypertension and related conditions during pregnancy are subject to negative cognitive effects, such as brain atrophy. This can cause a decrease in mental function that can predispose women to Alzheimer’s. Menopause, on the other hand, is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s because of an associated decline in verbal memory.[04]Verbal memory is the brain’s capacity for retaining words that are read or heard.

Even if you notice signs of dementia in a female loved one, she might not be diagnosed with the condition until it’s significantly progressed. This is because women’s verbal memory, or ability to remember spoken or written words, may hide symptoms of dementia until it has progressed to its later stages. The ability to crisply recall something she was recently told or quickly note something she read on her to-do list may mask your loved one’s other dementia symptoms.

Verbal memory tests are commonly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Compared to men, women typically have a greater capacity for verbal memory.[07] While men with dementia may show a decline in verbal memory in earlier stages, the verbal memory advantage that women have prevents a discrepancy from appearing early on. Since the scores from verbal memory tests are used as part of the diagnostic process, women are less likely to be diagnosed at these earlier stages.[07]

Dementia symptoms in women may appear differently than in men. In general, men tend to more clearly exhibit apathy and inappropriate behavior.[08] The symptom differences between men and women are apparent depending on the specific type of dementia that a woman has.

Depending on the specific type of dementia, women may be more likely to experience the following symptoms:

General dementia:

  • Higher levels of anxiety
  • Higher levels of depression [08]

Dementia with Lewy bodies:

  • More psychotic difficulties, such as auditory hallucinations [09]

Alzheimer’s disease:

  • More psychotic difficulties
  • More severe and frequent signs of depression
  • More severe and frequent delusions
  • More severe and frequent abnormal movements [10]

Although women may be at a disadvantage when it comes to dementia diagnoses, there are still plenty of ways you can support your loved one and help her feel in control of her life. Here are several steps you can take to help your loved one manage her dementia symptoms:

  • Create safety modifications for her home.
  • Try different memory activities.
  • Encourage her to accomplish daily tasks.
  • Use specific communication strategies with her.
  • Manage her confusion with environmental strategies.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle with exercise and brain-boosting foods.
  • Seek professional care for your loved one.

If your female loved one has dementia, you may have many suitable care options to consider. From at-home strategies to secure memory care communities, you can work with professionals and your family members to find an appropriate option. Discover what type of care may fit your loved one’s unique needs through a no-cost consultation with a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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