Five ways Alzheimer's affects women more than men

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Women shoulder a disproportionate burden of the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease, both as patients and caregivers.

More women have Alzheimer's

First, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's than men. Of the 5.4 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the number of women diagnosed outpaces men by about 2 to 1. The disproportionate risk for women may be due to the fact that they generally live longer than men and have more time to develop Alzheimer’s.

Women's brains interrupted

The genetic variation common to most people with Alzheimer’s is more likely to disrupt the brain function in apparently healthy, older women. Both men and women who inherit two copies of the gene variant ApoE4 – meaning they receive ApoE4 from both of their parents – have a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  It is a rare gene combination affecting only about 2 percent of the population.

Women deteriorate faster

Once diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, women tend to deteriorate faster than men. According to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, men with Alzheimer’s disease performed consistently and significantly better in cognitive assessments throughout the progression of the disease than female patients in the study.

Women and the caregiving burden

According to the Shriver Report, 60 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women. Specifically, 6.7 million women devote about 10 billion unpaid hours – worth about $126 billion – per year caring for people, often family members, with Alzheimer’s disease.  About 58 percent of those women are employed and have children of their own.

Sister, can you spare a dime?

Because women are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and care for them, they will shoulder most of the financial burden, both direct and indirect. Treating Alzheimer’s disease will cost the country about $200 billion in 2012.  About $33.8 billion of that $200 billion is out-of-pocket costs, causing a substantial financial burden for both the people suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.