While it’s been known for years that statistically more women than men develop Alzheimer’s disease, the reason was thought to be that, as a group, women have a longer life expectancy than men. Since age is the largest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, it would be expected that more women than men would live to develop the disease as they grow older. Some studies have pointed to hormonal differences as a risk factor, as well. Recently, however, researchers have become convinced that there is more than age and possibly hormones involved in this imbalance between genders.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is one in six, compared with nearly one in 11 for a man. Not only are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, they are also much more likely to be Alzheimer’s caregivers.
It’s thought that there are 2.5 times as many women as men providing intensive 24-hour care for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. This type of caregiving is, by nature, isolating. The caregiver needs to stay with the care receiver therefore she often loses touch with friends. A thriving social life is one of the lifestyle suggestions experts name as a possible way to diminish chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future, so this isolation could possibly increase the caregiver’s own risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
An article on HealthCentral focusing on the health issues of female caregivers as opposed to male caregivers underscores the difficulty in gathering reliable facts when trying to decipher gender differences. The article states that men and women tend to report caregiving differently.
The article says that while there are few differences between what men and women reported when they help their spouse with activities such as bathing and dressing, there were gender differences in what was reported as “help” in other areas. In general, women may not report cooking meals, grocery shopping, and doing laundry as "helping" a mate. Most women do these things without thinking of them as out of the ordinary. Men are more apt to report this type of work as help, since for many men this is new activity.
Whatever the reasons, and likely there are several, women seem to bear the brunt of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. There’s little doubt that many more surveys and studies will be conducted to try to determine reasons for this disparity. Studies, however, will not diminish the impact of Alzheimer’s on women. The only real answer to this quandary is to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Yes, we definitely need to increase the monetary and social support for families coping with Alzheimer’s disease. However, in the end, determining the cause or causes of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and developing a way to cure these life changing diseases is a goal that must be kept in front of our elected leaders.
Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease takes commitment and money for research. If we don’t adequately fund research to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, we as a nation will pay more in the end as we struggle to provide care for the ever increasing numbers of those affected by dementia.
Moisse, K. (2014, March 19) Women Bear Brunt of Alzheimer’s Disease, Report Shows. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2014/03/19/women-bear-brunt-of-alzheimers-disease-report-shows/
Alzheimer’s Association. (2014, March 19) Women in their 60s twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are breast cancer. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/news_and_events_women_in_their_60s.asp
Source: Span, P. (2012, May 31) A Special Burden for Women. New Old Age Blog. New York Times. Retrieved from http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/a-special-burden-for-women/
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.