Studies have established that middle-aged women are more likely to develop brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease than men, even when they show no differences in cognition. A new study says the reasons may be linked to hormonal changes in women, specifically the decline in estrogen levels as women approach menopause.
About two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and people had always though it was because women tend to live longer. The new study suggests that hormonal changes in women cause several brain changes that predispose women to the disease.
The study involved 85 women and 36 men with an average age of 52. All the participants had no cognitive impairment as the time of the study and they all had similar scores on cognitive tests including memory and thinking and on scores for blood pressure and family history of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers evaluated brain changes in each participant using a special scan called positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The scans were used to detect protein plaques in the brain that mark for the disease. Furthermore, the researchers compared the men and women using certain brain changes and found that women scored worse on all indicators than men. On average, women had 30% more plaques than men and had more suggestive brain changes than men.
The study authors suggest that the higher preponderance of the disease in middle-aged women was likely due to hormonal changes during and after menopause. Other studies will need to show the same results before they can be fully accepted.
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