The Alzheimer’s Association released their annual Disease Facts and Figures report this week and along with the latest national statistics, the report also paid special attention to the gender disparities that exist concerning the Alzheimer’s epidemic. The report states that “almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.” Just as startling, the report states that “women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as breast cancer.” Along with the reasoning that women outlive men, other possible explanations include “differences in brain structure,” and “different hormonal physiology.” However, these explanations are not supported by scientific evidence making it difficult to definitively justify the difference.
In addition to analyzing gender difference in the prevalence and incidence of Alzheimer’s, the report also studied differences in informal caregiving between men and women. Not surprisingly, more than 60% of dementia caregivers are women, with the actual number possibly higher due to underreporting. The study found that women were more likely to assume the role of a caregiver, but that caregiving burden differed between those women who felt obligated to be a caregiver versus women who willingly chose to be a caregiver. However, in general, women shouldered more of the burden and stress compared with men. Unfortunately, the report also indicated that women were “less likely than men to receive outside help for caregiving,” which often led to worse negative health outcomes.
The report concludes that Alzheimer’s clearly affects women more strongly than men in terms of both developing the disease, and caring for a loved one with the disease. The stress associated with either can then complicate and lead to further issues such as marital problems, lost employment, strained relationships and depression.