As women get older, it is well known that the risk of developing breast cancer increases. But a new report from the Alzheimer's Association finds that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over the rest of their lives as they are breast cancer.
The report also reveals that a woman's estimated lifetime risk of developing the disease at the age of 65 is 1 in 6, while the risk stands at 1 in 11 for a man.
The "Alzheimer's Association 2014 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures" report involved a survey of 3,102 American adults, which was conducted on the back of a report from 2010 titled, "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's."
Around 5 million people in the US have Alzheimer's disease, and approximately 3.2 million of these are women.
According to the report, the most common theory as to why there is a higher prevalence of Alzheimer's among women than men is because women have longer lifespans, meaning they are more likely to reach an age that poses a high risk for the disease.
But this is not the only theory. Past research has suggested that women have different brain structures to men, which puts them at increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia.
A new report finds that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's in the rest of their lifetime than breast cancer.
Women and men also have different hormonal physiology, and studies have shown that sex-specific hormones have effects on the brain. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that older women with diabetes and high estrogen levels are at higher risk of dementia.
Furthermore, many gene variants have been associated with increased Alzheimer's risk. One of the strongest genetic risk factors found so far - epsilon4 variant of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE-e4) - appears to be more pronounced in women than men.
However, none of these theories are conclusive, and the report states that further research is needed to determine the biological differences between men and women when it comes to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association, says:
"Well-deserved investments in breast cancer and other leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS have resulted in substantial decreases in death. Comparable investments are now needed to realize the same success with Alzheimer's in preventing and treating the disease."
Women and the burden of Alzheimer's
As well as detailing the high prevalence of Alzheimer's disease among women, the report reveals that women are more concerned about developing Alzheimer's than men.
When women were asked if they were "frightened" about the possibility of developing the disease, 58% said yes, compared with 43% of men.
Of the 3,102 participants surveyed, 512 people said they were the main caregiver for an individual with Alzheimer's disease or dementia or equally shared the responsibilities with another person.
Fast facts about Alzheimer's disease
- Every 67 seconds, someone in the US develops Alzheimer's disease.
- The disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
- Last year, 15.5 million caregivers in the US gave approximately 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care for individuals with Alzheimer's, valued at more than $220 billion.
Of these caregivers, 63% were women. Furthermore, the report reveals there are 2.5 more women that men who provide 24-hour care for a person with Alzheimer's disease.
In addition, 47% of women considered their caregiving role to be physically stressful, compared with 24% of men, while 62% of women said they found the role emotionally stressful, compared with 52% of men.
Women also reported more strained family relationships and lost employment opportunities than men as a result of their caregiving duties.
As Geiger says, based on the findings of this report, it seems that "women are the epicenter of Alzheimer's disease, representing majority of both people with the disease and Alzheimer's caregivers."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that individuals with chronic sleep disruptions may face earlier onset of Alzheimer's.
Written by Honor Whiteman