Is dementia a woman's issue? In short, yes. Women are more likely to get the disease and bear the burden of caring for a diagnosed loved one.
Women's history month is a time to reflect on women's contributions throughout the world and issues facing women today.
The fact is women are more likely than men to develop dementia. A woman's lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (after age 45) is approximately 1 in 5; for men, it's 1 in 10.
There are several possible reasons why more women than men are developing dementia.
Women are more likely to live longer than men. Yet, advancing age is not the only reason.
Hormones may also play a role. Researchers think the female hormone estrogen can protect brain cells from damage by creating antioxidants. The sudden drop in women's estrogen levels following menopause could make them more vulnerable to dementia.
Mental Health. Depression and anxiety are also risk factors for developing dementia. These mental health conditions are more common among women.
Once dementia is diagnosed, it may be more advanced in women than in men. One possible reason is that women tend to perform better than men on verbal memory tests at earlier stages of the disease. This difference can mask memory problems and hinder the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
It can be difficult for women who develop dementia to accept their role and identity changes. Shifting from being the primary caregiver to now needing care is a profound change that is often met with resistance. Recognizing the need for help and accepting support is different for men and women. Maintaining identity and independence is a strong personal driver for many experiencing the symptoms of dementia.
Women are more likely to fill the role of caregiver for loved ones with dementia taking a toll on their financial, physical, and mental well-being. Women make up more than 60% of dementia caregivers. Many more will take on that role as more people become diagnosed with dementia in the next few decades.
More than one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters, often caring for their parents and their children at the same time. There is an unbalanced burden on women at work and at home, forcing them to make difficult choices about their careers, relationships, and futures.
Because of caregiving duties, women are likely to experience consequences in the workplace. Nearly 19 percent of women dementia caregivers had to quit work either to provide care full-time or because their caregiving duties became too demanding.
Looking to the future:
Women are leading the charge toward meaningful progress in reducing the gender disparities with dementia and improving its treatment. However, we need to see more gender-based research into the biology, behavior, and risk factors of dementia in women.
There is a demand for real change for long-term care services and support financing for family caregivers. Easing the burden of care for all, especially women, is the way forward.