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Women are at the ‘epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease,' says new report

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Women are at a much higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than men, and the condition poses an even greater risk for elderly women than breast cancer, a new report finds.

According to the latest Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, women have a 1 in 6 estimated lifetime risk of developing the disease at age 65, while the risk for men is nearly 1 in 11. Additionally, women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they are to develop breast cancer.

These differences in gender are further reflected by the fact that there are 2.5 times as many women than men providing 24-hour care for someone living with Alzheimer’s.

Acting as an “on-duty” caregiver for someone living with Alzheimer’s creates a strain that leads to feelings of isolation and depression, as well as the need to take a leave of absence or give up working entirely. While performing caregiving duties, 20 percent of women went from working full-time to working part-time, compared to 3 percent of men.

"[W]e know that women are the epicenter of Alzheimer's disease, representing majority of both people with the disease and Alzheimer's caregivers. Alzheimer's Association Facts and Figures examines the impact of this unbalanced burden," said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer’s disease is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and affects more than 5 million Americans – including 3.2 million women. Adding to that, 15.5 million caregivers provide 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care. Dementia caregiving resulted in an estimated $9.3 billion in increased health care costs for caregivers in 2013.

Given these statistics, the Alzheimer’s Association is calling for a greater investment in research of the disease.

"Well-deserved investments in breast cancer and other leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS have resulted in substantial decreases in death. Comparable investments are now needed to realize the same success with Alzheimer's in preventing and treating the disease,” Geiger said.

The Alzheimer’s Association points out that there is still a lack of understanding about the disease – a form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

"Despite being the nation's biggest health threat, Alzheimer's disease is still largely misunderstood. Everyone with a brain — male or female, family history or not — is at risk for Alzheimer's," Geiger said. "Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's, and America is aging. As a nation, we must band together to protect our greatest asset, our brains."