Alzheimer’s is far more prevalent in women

Alzheimer’s is significantly more prevalent among women and many risk factors for the disease can be mitigated.


Cleveland Clinic’s (USA) Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has joined forceswith the Maria Shriver-founded Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement to establish a one-of-a-kind prevention clinic exclusively for women.


The Women Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic is a philanthropy-powered, three-year pilot project, under the direction of Jessica Caldwell, PhD, a neuropsychologist who is an expert in brain health, memory, aging, and women’s risks for Alzheimer’s disease.


Explaining the need for a different approach for women, Dr. Caldwell says: “Some of the reasons why we are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease than men are known, and are not things that we can really change, such as the fact that we live longer than men and we are more susceptible to certain genetic effects.


“However, some of our vulnerabilities, like not being as physically active as men, or having more negative brain effects from diabetes and hypertension,and similar factors are things we can do something about.”


In discussing risk factors unique to women, she says loss of estrogen after menopause is significant. “Estrogen supports brain health and neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to grow new cells and connections. Estrogen also regulates inflammation and works against cell death. Losing estrogen would mean loss of these benefits, but could also have make an impact in other ways, because estrogen plays multiple roles in brain and body function,” she explains.


Dr. Caldwell points out there is growing recognition that around a third of Alzheimer's cases worldwide could be attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors.


She says that changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease take place decades before symptoms occur, so in order to prevent disease, healthy, risk-reducing interventions need to take place even earlier than traditionally indicated.


One of these interventions is for women to change theireating habits. “While we can never guarantee prevention of dementia, we know that people who eat closer to the Mediterranean or MIND diets – lower saturated fats, more fruits and vegetables, fewer processed foods, for example – tend to have better cognitive or thinking outcomes as they age,” Dr. Caldwell says.


Another prevention strategy is increasing activity levels. “Exercise increases levels of memory-promoting neurotransmitters in brain regions that take new information and send it to long-term memory storage. In addition, exercise can counteract some of the negative effects of diabetes, and can reduce stress and depression – all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease,” she says.


Dr. Caldwell adds that cognitive challenge is also key in prevention strategies.“Working a mentally demanding job, debating with friends, watching a thought-provoking film, crosswords, and online games are all examples of beneficial cognitive challenges.”


6 August 2020.