Women are at the center of an Alzheimer’s crisis. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5 million seniors in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, and two-thirds of them are women. That adds up to 3.2 million women over the age of 65 who have the disease.
Women who reach age 65 without Alzheimer’s have a better than one in six chance of developing the condition, compared with men who have a 1 in 11 chance. A woman in her sixties has twice as much risk of developing Alzheimer’s sometime in her life as she does breast cancer.
And the crisis doesn’t end there. Women who don’t have the disease are also more likely to be touched by Alzheimer’s in other ways than men. Sixty-three percent of all unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are women. That adds another 10 million women to the list of those affected by the disease.
While researchers recognize that women are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, they cannot explain why. Traditional wisdom equated women’s higher risk with the basic fact that women tend to live longer than men. This gives women more years to develop Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Now, research shows that women’s brains appear to be more vulnerable to the changes involved in Alzheimer’s disease. One study from Duke University showed that, for people with mild memory loss, brain function declines approximately twice as fast in women as in men. This means women with mild cognitive impairment are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Another study from Oregon Health & Science University suggests that older women who undergo surgery with general anesthesia are more likely to lose some brain function than older men undergoing similar procedures. These researchers believe that the combination of surgery and anesthesia could affect both brain volume and thinking.
While it is common for people coming out of anesthesia to experience some degree of confusion, it normally wears off quickly.