Sex Differences Between Men and Women Are Believed to Impact Alzheimer’s Risk

When it comes to disease, including Alzheimer’s, sex matters. However, according to a recent paper published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, a clear research gap exists. This area of research could better prevent, diagnose, and treat both men and women.

At this time, Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death among women and the eighth leading cause for men. By addressing the sociocultural and biological differences between men and women, this may potentially speed up the development of new treatment options.

Biological Differences Play a Key Role in the Progression of Alzheimer’s

As stated in one review, The evolution of sex differences in disease, men and women differ in terms of rates of incidence, the age of onset, and symptoms. Of the approximately 5.7 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, two-thirds are women.

Although progress has been made in recent years, these sex differences receive little attention. Traditionally, hormonal differences have been closely studied. However, based on prior research, the impact of sex-chromosomes and hormones cannot be the only explanation.

While focusing specifically on Alzheimer’s, it is clear that biological sex plays a role in relation to one’s overall risk. For example, APOE4 is a well-known, common genetic risk factor. However, women who carry this gene variation are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men who carry APOE4.

Although researchers are unsure why, after receiving a diagnosis, women tend to decline more rapidly than men. Women also tend to display more outward signs of dementia than men, even when their pathology is the same (i.e. the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain).

High priority areas of research

At this time, there are a number of high priority research areas, including:

  • Key potential risk factors that only one sex faces throughout their lives. These factors mainly include pregnancy and menopause. Since hormones, including estrogen, have a significant effect on the brain, this is an ideal place to start.

  • Once again, risk factors that tend to impact each sex differently, such as rates of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Genetic differences are also key, including the prevalence of APOE4 carriers.

  • Gender differences are also important while studying the impact of caregiving and how this role influences Alzheimer’s risk.

  • How both men and women respond to the available treatment options is important, as differences could provide clues in terms of key mechanisms.

The Role of X Chromosomes In Relation to Alzheimer’s Risk

In 2015, a team of researchers presented their recent findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC). This research suggests that women’s brains are more vulnerable to the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, causing them to decline twice as fast in comparison to men.

These findings were based on data from the ongoing project known as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Upon investigating the cognitive abilities of 141 women and 257 men with mild cognitive impairment, most of which were in their 70s, it was found that women decline significantly faster.

Based on a complementary study, women were also appear to accumulate more amyloid in their brains. However, researchers are unsure why. Of the theories presented, one explanation is based on the fact that each cell in a woman’s body carries two X chromosomes. In contrast, the cells in a man’s body carry an X and a Y chromosome.

Since men and women appear to have different experiences in relation to Alzheimer’s risk, this area of research will continue. At this time, the available research suggests that gender-specific genetic or environmental risk factors may influence these differences.

Both Men and Women Need to Be Aware of Potential Warning Signs

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, early intervention is imperative. By seeking a diagnosis as soon as possible, patients tend to experience a higher quality of life. This is why we developed the BrainTest® app, a scientifically validated assessment tool that can help you determine the potential early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments.

If you would like to learn more, please review the science behind this app here. If you are concerned about your current cognitive health or would like to support a loved one in need, you can access the app here, and take your first test for free.

Do not put off your concerns any longer. An accurate diagnosis is the first step towards a more comfortable, positive prognosis.

Have some questions? Contact our support team today!


Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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