WOMEN ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO ALZHEIMER’S

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Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently.

Out of the approximately 50 million people worldwide with dementia, between 60 per cent and 70 per cent are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease and women are found to be more prone to the disease. The early signs of the disease include forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Early signs

Though old age and feebleness are mistakenly considered to be the first signals of having Alzheimer’s disease, it is not true. Nevertheless, the truth in that belief is that people of old age (usually above the age of 65) are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. However, the doctors identify short term memory loss as the first symptom of the disease. A person with first stage Alzheimer’s may find difficulties in recollecting recent conversations and activities.

Moreover, the incapability of carrying out executive functions of attentiveness, planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking, or impairments in semantic memory (memory of meanings, and concept relationships) can also be symptomatic of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Women at a higher risk?

The most recently carried-out studies have demonstrated that women are at an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease when compared to men. A survey from the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at the Cleveland Clinic in the US found that about 82 per cent of women were not aware of their elevated risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly three-quarters of the women surveyed have not talked about or consulted their doctor regarding their brain health.

Another study shows that the risk of women above 65 years having Alzheimer’s disease is as twice as the risk of having breast cancer, which itself is at a very high level.

Also, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is one in five.

Why?

Studies carried out by the researchers at the University of Chicago and Boston University School of Medicine have discovered a new gene called MGMT, O6-Methylguanine-DNA-methyltransferase, which as they identify, could be the reason behind the increased risk in women.

“This is one of a few and perhaps the strongest associations of a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s that is specific to women. This finding is particularly robust because it was discovered independently in two distinct populations using different approaches,” said Chief of Biomedical Genetics at BUSM and a senior author of the study, Lindsay Farrer.

Another reason for this high risk is women’s longer life span compared to men. Age, is a high-risk factor contributes to Alzheimer’s disease; higher the age, higher the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease is.

Beta-amyloid is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid is a fragment of a larger protein. When these fragments cluster together, they appear to have a toxic effect on neurons and to disrupt cell-to-cell communication. These clusters form larger deposits called amyloid plaques, which also include other cellular debris. Women, naturally, have more plaques as a result of their stronger immunisation system, which develops in order to provide protection to the foetus from diseases during the pregnancy. Hence, they hold a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.

Precautions

While, the risk factors like age and genes cannot be manipulated, other contributing factors such as high blood pressure and lack of physical activity can be avoided. The doctors advise women over 60 to maintain a daily schedule of light physical exercises to keep the body organs functioning and stimulate the blood and oxygen supply to the brain cells, which contributes to the well-being of the brain.

Also, studies have evidenced that healthy eating habits too can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. It means the limitation of sugar and fat intake and the escalated consumption of fruits; especially ones enriched with dietary fibres, vegetables and whole grains on a daily basis.

Having strong social connections is another precaution. Usually, people tend to avoid social interactions and spend much time in solitude in older ages, which reduces the nerve and brain cell function and finally leads way to decline of cognitive function and Alzheimer’s. Thus, having stronger social connections can stimulate the direct mechanisms, which strengthen the connections between the nerve cells in the brain.

By Induwara Athapattu