Women in mid-life more likely to have Alzheimer’s brain changes than men
24 June 2020
Today (Wednesday 24 June) researchers from the US suggest that the menopause could account for women being at greater risk of dementia than men. The findings are published in the scientific journal, Neurology.
Women are a marginalised majority when it comes to dementia
More women than men are affected by dementia and account for two-thirds of those living with the condition in the UK.
While women can expect to live longer than men, this alone does not explain the difference in the numbers developing dementia. Scientists have been delving deeper into the biological variations that could be causing this.
What happened in this study?
The US scientists looked at 121 research volunteers between the ages of 40 and 65. This included 85 women and 36 men who had no memory and thinking problems.
Researchers conducted extensive brain scans including MRI and PET. They also looked at several lifestyle and medical measures, which included hormonal risk factors and menopausal status.
What did the researchers find?
The researchers found that women tended to have smaller brain volumes, lower rates of brain metabolism and a greater build-up of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, compared to men.
On average, the women had 30% more amyloid clumps in the brain and 22% lower glucose metabolism than the male volunteers.
Aside from sex, the strongest indicator of risk was the onset of the menopause.
Expert reaction from Alzheimer’s Research UK:
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This research used a comprehensive set of brain scans in people who did not have memory or thinking problems, but this study was relatively small and larger studies will be needed to confirm these findings. While women in the study were more likely to show brain changes usually associated with Alzheimer’s, we do not know whether they would have gone on to develop symptoms of dementia. Although the researchers found that the menopause was the strongest predictor of these changes aside from sex, they cannot tell if this was down to hormone changes alone, as they did not measure this directly.
“While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, our brains don’t operate in isolation from the rest of our bodies and a good rule of thumb for everyone is that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain.
“The best current evidence indicates as well as staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we age.”
Neurology: Sex-driven modifiers of Alzheimer risk: A multimodality brain imaging study