Gender may play a significant role in the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease, as researchers studying mild cognitive impairment in both men and women found that women generally have better verbal memory.

“One way to interpret the results is that because women have better verbal memory skills than men throughout life, women have a buffer of protection against loss of verbal memory before the effects of Alzheimer’s disease kick in,” lead author Dr. Erin Sundermann of Albert Einstein College of Medicine said, according to Medical Daily.

Researchers pulled data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative to study MRI scans of 1,308 elderly patients and their performance on tests that measured cognitive ability, Medical Daily reported. In that pool, 694 patients had a mild form of cognitive impairment, 235 had Alzheimer’s disease and 379 were considered cognitively healthy.

According to the report, researchers then determined brain damage by contrasting the volume of the hippocampal area to total brain volume. Patients with a smaller ratio had more deterioration, Medical Daily reported. Using this system, they determined that in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, females had a distinct advantage in verbal memory among those with large to moderate ratios. There was also an advantage among females with full Alzheimer’s.

Medial Daily reported the findings confirmed previously held beliefs that while women are more often diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than men, but are less likely to have the mild form of cognitive impairment.

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“Because verbal memory tests are used to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, these tests may fail to detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in women until they are further along in the disease,” Sundermann said, according to Medical Daily. 

Researchers plan to attempt to replicate their findings, and then determine whether women are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment at later stages of the disease than men because of the verbal memory advantage.

“If so, then sex-based norms in clinical memory tests might improve diagnostic accuracy in women,” they concluded, according to Medical Daily.

The study was published Wednesday in Neurology.