Recent startling research has shown women make up nearly two-thirds of the five million people in the U.S. diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One reason for this disparity is the fact women simply live longer than men. However, a new study suggests a gene might play a significant role.
A study published in the Annals of Neurology suggests a gene known as APOE4, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in both sexes. The gene, however, only had a minimal effect on men. In women the risk for developing Alzheimer’s nearly doubled or developing a related memory-impairing disease called mild cognitive impairment.
The Stanford Center for Memory Disorders studied the medical records of over 8,000 people. Some had the APOE4 gene while others did not. When it came to those folks who did have this specific gene, there was a clear pattern. Men who had the gene were only slightly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, while women who had the gene faced 1.8 times the risk compared with other women.
Researchers caution more testing needs to be done on the specific question of whether women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s over men in their same age group. Michelle Mielke, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic, says it does add to the evidence that risk factors for Alzheimer’s can be very different for men and women. For example, researchers are now just beginning to understand the role estrogen plays in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Mielke says the best deterrent to Alzheimer’s disease is simple health changes. “We say what’s good for your heart is good for your brain,” she says. “So exercise, controlling hypertension, cholesterol, eating right, doing physical activities are all important for your cognitive function.”
Find out more about this study by clicking here.