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Why a Woman’s Risk for Alzheimer’s is Unique

By Demetrius M. Maraganore, MD


The women in our lives are irreplaceable, and it is important that they take every precaution to stay healthy.

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association named women as the “epicenter” of the Alzheimer’s disease crisis. An estimated 3.2 million American women are living with the disease today. Women face a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s - one in five women are at risk of developing the disease, while for men the risk is 1 in 10.  Women are also more likely to be caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

My collaborators at Mayo and I conducted a study which found that women who had undergone oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) before the natural age of menopause or experienced early menopause had a 3x greater risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.  However, estrogen replacement until the natural age of menopause nullifies this risk.

Research has also shown that older adults are at higher risk for long-term cognitive and functional problems following surgery with general anesthesia – and women are at a higher risk for postoperative brain dysfunction than men.  In fact, in one study, the women experienced cognitive function decline twice as fast as men, when exposed to the same general anesthesia.

Hugging mother
Mateusz Zagorski

While we strive to understand the increased risk factors women face, what can be done to reduce the risk in the mean time? Risk reduction may hold a stronger importance for women. This includes taking actions we’ve discussed previously in this blog, such as strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet & habitual aerobic exercise.   But annual medical check ups to detect and manage chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and annual gynecological assessments to detect and manage early menopause, are equally important.

While women face an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, my message to you remains steadfast: You can maintain the health of your brain, and the time is now.  What you do today matters for tomorrow.

Demetrius M. Maraganore, MD, is Medical Director, NorthShore Neurological Institute; Chairman, Department of Neurology; and Director, Center for Brain Health, NorthShore University HealthSystem headquartered in Evanston, Illinois. Dr. Maraganore is an internationally renowned expert on the genetics of neurological disorders.  At NorthShore he is leading the DodoNA Project, DNA predictions to improve neurological health.  He is also leading the Neurology Practice Based Research Network, which aims to improve the quality of neurological care and to conduct practice based research using the electronic medical record, across several Departments of Neurology nationwide.  Dr. Maraganore has been recognized as a top 1% neurologist by U.S. News and World Report. More The team at the Center for Brain Health at NorthShore Neurological Institute works with patients to reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders, and to improve brain health. For more information, please visit NorthShore Center for Brain Health.

Dr. Maraganore. Courtesy of NorthShore Center for Brain Health

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