Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s victims are women — an increased risk that has been attributed to their longer life expectancy.
After all, age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and the average American woman can expect to live to age 81, while men, on average live to age 76.
Scientists are now pointing to other factors to explain the risk difference between sexes.
For example, lower educational achievement increases risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and many of today’s older women did not have the opportunity to pursue a college education and obtain stimulating jobs that might have better protected their brain health.
Other research points to biological differences. Dr. Michael Greicius and his colleagues at Stanford School of Medicine have shown that the APOE-4 genetic risk for Alzheimer’s exerts its effect in women and not men.
Recent research shows that this gene appears to interact with estrogen in a way that predisposes the brain to Alzheimer’s disease.
Following menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels decline dramatically, which makes it harder for the brain to use energy from glucose. Studies of estrogen replacement indicate mixed results depending on the timing of its use.
Estrogen replacement within five years of menopause appears to protect the brain; taking estrogen more than five years later does not affect risk. Also, women have a greater risk for depression than men, and depression is another major risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
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