Why Are Women at Higher Risk for Alzheimer’s?

An up-close view of a hand pointing at MRI scans on a tablet
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At least two-thirds of the 5.8 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women. “It’s Time to Act: The Challenges of Alzheimer’s and Dementia for Women,” a report from AARP and the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, carries a sobering message: Women are far more likely than men to suffer from Alzheimer’s — and not just because women live longer. A raft of data detail the ways that women’s bodies and brains may predispose them to dementia.

“The most important finding has been the discovery that Alzheimer’s is not a disease of old age,” says Lisa Mosconi, associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The disease starts with negative changes in the brain that can happen years, and sometimes even decades, before the clinical symptoms emerge.”

This is especially true for women, who develop Alzheimer’s disease earlier than men. “Hormone declines that lead to menopause can accelerate brain aging in women and potentially kick-start the predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease,” Mosconi says.

The upside: Science is revealing ways for women to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. When it comes to food, the Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes lean protein, particularly fish, whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and olive oil — seems to work best for women. “We have shown that the brain of a 60-year-old woman on the Mediterranean diet looks five years younger than that of a 50-year-old woman on the Western diet,” Mosconi says.

Physical activity helps both men and women prevent dementia, though it seems more beneficial for women. Consistency is key, particularly for women after menopause, so it's important to find a pleasurable, sustainable workout and stick with it. Try yoga, Pilates and walking.

Take a brain health assessment, play games, discover new recipes and more with AARP’s Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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