Multiple Studies: Women Have Higher Risk for Faster Cognitive Decline

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Recently, we've become aware of the fact that more women than men are affected by Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 2/3 of those with Alzheimer's are women. Women are also more likely to be serving as a caregiver for someone else with Alzheimer's disease; in fact, 60-70% of caregivers are women. Here's the stats in more detail:

    A number of studies have been conducted lately to try to get a handle on this issue; here are the highlights from two recent ones:

    1) Double Speed: The Decline in Women with Mild Cognitive Impairment

    Researchers at Duke University studied 398 people who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) --141 women and 257 men-- over the course of eight years.

    Mild cognitive impairment is a condition where memory and thinking skills have declined, yet most of the day-to-day functioning remains. MCI places people at a higher risk for developing dementia, but some people remain stable for many years without further impairments.

    In this research study, the ADAS-Cog test was used to measure the participants’ cognitive abilities on an annual basis.   

    The scores of both men and women who were ApoE 4 positive- a gene that carries a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease- declined more quickly than those without this gene.

    Additionally, the results showed a surprising difference between how quickly men and women declined. The ADAS-Cog scores of the male participants declined an average of 1.05 points each year. However, the scores of women declined more than twice as fast, at an average of 2.3 points each year.

    These scores suggest that women may somehow be more susceptible to mental decline once diagnosed with MCI.

    2) After General Surgery/Anesthesia, Cognition Declined Faster in Women

    Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University studied 527 participants, 182 of whom underwent general anesthesia 331 times for various surgical procedures.

    The patients’ cognition, functional ability and brain volume were measured before and after the surgeries. The results showed that both men and women declined after the surgeries on all measures. Notably, however, the women on average declined at a significantly faster rate than the men. The women also showed an even greater cognitive decline if they underwent more than one surgery.

    Interestingly, other research studies on the post-surgical effects of anesthesia on cognition have varied, ranging from no clear association to a significantly increased risk of cognitive problems following anesthesia in older adults.

    Next Steps

    Initially, many researchers assumed that the greater number of women with dementia was at least partially due to the longer life expectancy that women have as compared to men, thus placing them at greater risk to develop dementia the longer they live.

    While life expectancy may still be a contributing factor, the research studies outlined above remind us to consider that there may be other explanations as well which may help us better understand and more effectively treat and prevent dementia eventually.


    Alzheimer's Association. New York Consortium for Alzheimer Research and Education. Accessed July 30, 2015. Cognitive Problems Following Anesthesia.

    Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2015. Women with Cognitive Impairment Decline Twice as Fast as Men with the Condition. Women at Significantly Higher Risk for Cognitive and Functional Decline after Surgery/General Anesthesia. July 21, 2015.

    Mayo Clinic Proceedings. June 2013Volume 88, Issue 6, Pages 552–561. Anesthesia and Incident Dementia: A Population-Based, Nested, Case-Control Study,

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