Did you know that, in Canada, two-thirds of those living with some form of neurocognitive disorder, like Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, are women? Researchers have proposed several possible explanations for why women are more at risk of cognitive decline than men. Fortunately, you can put the odds in your favour by addressing certain modifiable risk factors. Here’s a three-point overview.
1. In 2020, nearly 600,000 people in Canada were living with a neurocognitive disorder. Of these, over 350,000 were women (The Landmark Study, Alzheimer Society of Canada, 2022). This trend has been observed in other countries as well.
But why are women at greater risk of developing neurocognitive disorders? For starters, they have a longer life expectancy than men, and we know that age is a risk factor.
Women also have different life circumstances and experiences than men, which may increase their risk as they get older. Namely, certain life events (e.g., pregnancy, menopause) and sociocultural factors (e.g., different educational and professional opportunities in their lifetime) may contribute to their higher risk.
These questions are still under study!
2. Today, more scientists are working to include women in their studies to better understand the relationship between sex at birth and the development of certain health problems, such as neurocognitive disorders.
This is an important step forward in the prevention and treatment of health conditions that particularly affect women.
For example, including more women in studies on neurocognitive disorders has allowed researchers to establish a link between female hormones (e.g., estrogen) and the risk of cognitive decline.
In particular, the drop in women’s estrogen levels, which typically occurs from the age of 40 through menopause, is thought to be associated with significant changes in the brain that may contribute to the development of a neurocognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Experts estimate that nearly 40% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders worldwide are attributable to modifiable risk factors, many of which have to do with lifestyle (Livingston et coll., 2020).
Although sex at birth is a non-modifiable risk factor (i.e., it cannot be changed) for Alzheimer’s disease, many other factors can be addressed to mitigate your risk.
Diet, exercise, and intellectual stimulation are among the many modifiable risk factors that are said to be protective, meaning they can help reduce your risk of developing neurocognitive disorders.
A healthy lifestyle can also have other benefits, such as lowering your risk of developing depression and various chronic illnesses (e.g., cardiovascular disease and diabetes).