Alzheimer’s disease hits women harder than men, especially in this age group

New research is warning that women who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s are most likely to develop the disease during a specific decade of their lives: between their mid-60s to their mid-70s.

Scientists out of the University of Southern California say that the risk typically heightens more than 10 years after menopause. Their findings stem from what they say is one of the world’s largest big-data studies on the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Menopause and plummeting estrogen levels, which on average begins at 51, may account for the difference. However, scientists still don’t know what is responsible. Researchers need to study women 10, 15 or even 20 years before their most vulnerable period to see if there are any detectable signals to suggest increased risk for Alzheimer’s in 15 years,” Dr. Judy Pa, the study’s co-author, said in a university statement.

“Our discovery is important because it highlights how clinical trials could be weighted toward women – a susceptible part of the population – to help scientists more rapidly identify effective drug interventions to slow or cure Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Arthur Toga, director of the university’s Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, said.

Turns out, genetically vulnerable men and women face the same odds of developing the disease. But once their golden years roll around, women face a “significantly” higher risk.

The data is based on the health status of nearly 58,000 North Americans and Europeans taking part in the Global Alzheimer’s Association Interactive Network or GAAIN.

It’s a big-data project handing scientists around the world a library of health records to study the disease.

Right now, almost two-thirds of the more-than-five-million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, according to the U.S. paper.

Keep in mind, the medical community chalked up the imbalance in disease risk to life expectancy – women, on average, live longer than men. Men also have higher rates of heart disease and stroke so they face a different subset of health woes.

In 2015, the Alzheimer Society of Canada kicked off its nationwide campaign, dubbed “The 72%.”

Women represent 72 per cent of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a strong statistic – while the organization’s previous surveys found that most Canadians know someone living with dementia, health officials are certain most people don’t know how prevalent the disease is amongst women.

Its impact on women is two-fold. Women also account for 70 per cent of family caregivers.

About 747,000 Canadians are living with some form of dementia and the society says this number is slated to double to 1.4 million in less than 20 years.

The risk of dementia doubles every five years after age 65. Common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, impaired judgment, thinking or reasoning, and changes in personality and behaviour that are out of character.

In addition to age, other risk factors include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, the organization says.