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Research: Alzheimer’s far more a threat to women

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Plaques  in the cerebral cortex of a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

Research presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International heard about research that indicated women with mild memory impairment worsened about twice as fast as men.

The findings may be helpful to hospitals, clinicians and other parts of the healthcare system in planning for adequate resources for caring for people with Alzheimer’s — a population that will  surge in the next few years with the large cohort of aging Baby Boomers.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

The Associated Press, which intensely covered the conference, reported that at age 65, “seemingly healthy women have about a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives, compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men. Scientists once thought the disparity was just because women tend to live longer — but there’s increasing agreement that something else makes women more vulnerable.”

“The men’s scores on an in-depth test of memory and thinking skills declined a point a year while the women’s scores dropped by two points a year.”

“Age, education levels and even whether people carried the ApoE-4 gene that increases the risk of late-in-life Alzheimer’s couldn’t account for the difference, said Duke medical student Katherine Lin, who co-authored a  study with Duke psychiatry professor Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy. The study wasn’t large or long enough to tell if women were more at risk for progressing to full dementia,” the news service reported.

“Two other studies  offered additional hints of differences in women’s brains:

“A sample of 1,000 participants in the large Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative compared PET scans to see how much of a sticky protein called beta-amyloid was building up in the brains of a variety of men and women, some healthy, some at risk and others with full-blown Alzheimer’s. Amyloid plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, and growing levels can help indicate who’s at risk before symptoms ever appear.

“’Overall, women have more amyloid than men,’ even among the cognitively normal group, said Dr. Michael Weiner of the University of California at San Francisco. The study couldn’t explain why, although it didn’t appear due to the risky ApoE-4 gene, which seemed to make a difference for men with Alzheimer’s but not women.”

Further, the AP reported, “Some seniors who undergo surgery with general anesthesia suffer lasting cognitive problems afterward, often expressed to doctors as, ‘Grandma was never the same after that operation.’ Tuesday, researchers reported that here again, women are at higher risk of getting worse.”



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