How Dementia Presents Differently In Men Versus Women

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to six million Americans are currently experiencing some form of dementia. Those over 65 years old make up the largest group, at roughly 5.6 million. 

The experts at Alzheimer's Association describe dementia as an overall term, as opposed to a single disease, that covers a range of medical issues caused by abnormal changes in the brain. Individuals who have some form of dementia will experience a decline in cognitive abilities that can be severe enough to impact ordinary daily tasks and activities, such as remembering appointments, paying bills, keeping track of important items such as wallets and keys, and short-term memory loss, among others.

The type of damage to brain cells and the region of the brain damage will impact the kind of dementia an individual experiences. For example, Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, affects the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Determining if someone has dementia requires a combination of assessments that include the person's medical history, along with a physical exam and laboratory tests. There is no cure for dementia, but, depending on the type of dementia, some treatments may be effective in mitigating symptoms and slowing cognitive decline, per Alzheimer's Association.

Is dementia more common in men or women?

Dementia impacts men and women differently, with dementia occurring in women worldwide twice as frequently as men. According to Dr. Aoife Kiely, research communications officer at Alzheimer's Societybrain scans have indicated that the death of brain cells is more accelerated in women than in men. Additionally, women tend to live longer than men, and, though dementia is not caused by age alone, age is considered an increased risk factor.

However, the experts at Harvard Health make the distinction that while studies have indicated that women are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to men, women are not necessarily more prone than men to develop non-Alzheimer types of dementia as they age. This suggests that there are factors specific to Alzheimer's that influence the disease's impact based on gender. Additionally, women have stronger immune systems than men, which may be related to women having a higher occurrence of autoimmune disorders. Health experts believe autoimmune disorders are a cause for the development of amyloid plaques, clumps of proteins that develop in the brain and that are associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Whether you are a man or a woman, the good news is that there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of developing dementia, such as engaging in a regular amount of weekly exercise, adhering to a Mediterranean diet, getting quality sleep, and staying socially active, per Harvard Health.