Women and Alzheimer's Disease

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Who Gets Alzheimer's Disease?

Millions of people develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, but who's at a higher risk? Aging increases your risk for developing Alzheimer's, but did you know that being a woman does, too?

Statistics on Women and Alzheimer's Disease

  • Two-thirds of people (approximately 3.2 million) with Alzheimer's disease in the United States are women.
  • Women in their sixties are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's over the rest of their lifetime as they are to suffer from breast cancer.
  • At age 65, the lifetime Alzheimer's risk for a man is 1 in 11, while for women, it's 1 in 6.
  • Women are also more likely to be caregivers for someone with dementia. Female caregivers account for 60% to 70% of dementia caregivers, depending on which study you reference.

Why Are Women at a Higher Risk for Alzheimer's?

The short answer? We don't know. The longer answer involves a few possibilities.

One factor is likely influenced by women having a longer lifespan. Women live an average of 80.6 years while men are expected to live an average of 75.7 years. So, are men just more likely to die before they develop dementia? And, how do we test this theory?

Another possibility is that perhaps Alzheimer's disease and related dementias affect women differently than they affect men. Research is looking at multiple ideas, including whether, for some reason, women's brains develop a higher amount of pathology than males, if males develop the same brain pathologies but overall display less cognitive impairment, or if hormone differences play a role.

Women as Caregivers for People with Dementia

In the United States, it's estimated that 6.7 million women are providing more than 10 billion hours a year of care for someone with dementia. Women caregivers often are providing at least 30 hours a week of care to a loved one. These same women are frequently playing other roles as well, such as being a mother and working a job, both of which may be negatively affected by the caregiver role.

Caregivers are more likely to neglect their own health and thus end up receiving emergency medical care, as well as to experience a high level of emotional stress.

Caregivers are also affected financially. They frequently spend money on their loved one's needs, decrease their hours at work, take a leave of absence, or even quit their job.

Next Steps

Awareness breeds change, so share information about the higher risk for women with others. Advocate for continued research by supporting your local Alzheimer's Association. And, if you're a caregiver, utilize the resources available to support you in your role.

Related Reading


The Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's Facts and Figures. Accessed March 27, 2014. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp#women

Journal of Women's Health. Volume 21, Number 10, 2012. Report from the Society for Women’s Health Research Sex and Gender Differences in Alzheimer’s Disease: Recommendations for Future Research. http://www.womenshealthresearch.org/site/DocServer/SWHR_AD_jwh_2012_3789.pdf?docID=9761

Women Against Alzheimer's. 2013 Facts. Accessed March 27, 2014.  http://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/sites/default/files/WA2-FactSheet.pdf

The Working Mother Research Institute. Accessed March 27, 2014. Women and Alzheimer's Disease: The Caregiver's Crisis. http://www.wmmsurveys.com/ALZ_report.pdf

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