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It’s often reported that women are more likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease than men since some 65 percent of Americans with Alzheimer’s are female. That statistic needs some explanation, however.

Alzheimer’s and dementia in general are more prevalent among women — that is, among the population who have the diseases at any one time, more women have them than men. But as Mary Sano, PhD, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and associate dean at New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says that number is skewed by life expectancy.

“Women live longer than men, and given that this is a disease of aging, the number of women with the disease is greater than the number of men at any point in time,” she explains.

“Incidence — or the likelihood of getting this disease — is different. There is little to no evidence that women are more likely to get the disease.”

Still, Sano says, there are a few sex-based differences that shift detection rates of Alzheimer’s between women and men.

Women can have larger brain ratios in key brain memory areas affected by Alzheimer’s — particularly, the hippocampus — and “tend to have better memories” because of this, she explains. This often results in women being less likely to be detected in early stages of Alzheimer’s where more treatment possibilities are available.

Finally, women are much more likely to be caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s: Two-thirds of dementia caregivers are female.

This originally appeared as part of “Untangling Alzheimer’s” in the March 2017 issue of Experience Life.

Illustration by: David Cutler

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