Women have enough challenges as they go through the menopausal transition. What with the hot flashes, crazy periods, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain, drier skin, thinning hair and bruising more easily, I can hear you say, “Enough already!” I’d suggest, however, that all of these changes should serve as a wake-up call to look realistically at your life and start making changes that are necessary to help you remain healthy during the next phases. For instance, your risk of developing one of the scariest conditions – Alzheimer’s disease – may actually depend on the choices you are making during this time in your life.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that a 65-year-old woman has a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her lifetime; in comparison, a 65-year-old man has a one in 11 chance. Furthermore, women in their 60s have about twice as high a risk of developing Alzheimer’s as they have developing breast cancer.
So why are we at higher risk? Many people have suggested that because women often live longer than men, this automatically sets us up to have a higher incidence of this Alzheimer’s. However, while this may be true, new research is suggesting that other factors may also be responsible.
For instance, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reports the APOE-E4 gene is seen in more than one in seven people and has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s (although having this gene doesn’t automatically mean you will develop Alzheimer’s). However, women who have the APOE-E4 gene are more likely to develop this disease than men who have this same gene. People who have a single copy of the APO-E4 gene have 2-4 times higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, inheriting this gene from both parents – which means that you’d have two EPO-E4 genes – increases the risk by tenfold.
A second factor is the tendency for women to develop other health conditions after going through menopause. Research continues to suggest that these conditions – which include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – appear to be linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
A third factor that may contribute to the higher incidence of Alzheimer’s in women is stress. For example, a longitudinal study out of Sweden looked at the relationship between mid-life stress and the risk for development Alzheimer’s. This study involved 800 women who were born between the years of 1914 and 1930. At the start of the study, the researchers gauged 18 stressors in the women’s lives; these stressors included divorce, widowhood, work problems and a relative’s illness. The researchers also regularly assessed the women’s cognitive function.
Over the course of the 37-year study, 153 women developed dementia. Furthermore, the researchers found that the number of stressors experienced in 1968 – when these women were in middle age – was associated with a high risk of developing dementia. Additionally, they found that having numerous stressors at mid-life and long-term distress were independently linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Therefore, it’s really important as you reach the menopausal transition to take time to really evaluate your lifestyle and make choices that can protect your cognitive health. These include:
- Choosing foods wisely – A Mediterranean diet increasingly has been found to protect brain health (as well as the cardiovascular system). This type of diet focuses on eating lots of produce, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. You’re encouraged to eat fish and seafood at least twice a week and consume moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. Wine can be consumed in moderation, but your drink of choice should be water. Limit consumption of meats (pork, beef, lamb, mutton and goat) and sweets.
- Being physically active on a regular basis.
- Lowering stress.
- Building strong relationships.
- Challenging yourself mentally through hobbies, new experiences and other stimulating experiences.
Primary Source for This Sharepost:
Alzheimer’s Association. (2014). Women in their 60s twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over the rest of their lives as they are breast cancer.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2014). Why women may be more likely to get Alzheimer’s.
Johansson, L., et al. (2013). Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer's disease: a 38-year longitudinal population study. BMJ Open.
National Institute on Aging. (2014). Alzheimer’s disease fact sheet.
Published On: April 30, 2014