Why Alzheimer’s May Be Tougher to Spot in Women

(Serena Gordon, HealthDay News)  If your memory starts slipping, your gender may play a role in whether or not you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests.

How? Women excel in a skill called verbal memory — the ability to learn and remember verbal information such as stories or grocery lists.

At the moment, tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease rely heavily on measuring this skill, the study authors explained, which means some women may appear normal when they already have the memory-draining disease.

“About 10 percent of women originally diagnosed as normal were shown to meet the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Pauline Maki, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Conversely, we found that there were about 10 percent of men who were reclassified as not having Alzheimer’s disease. These findings suggest it’s important to pay attention to sex differences to improve the diagnostic accuracy for women and for men,” Maki said.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes difficulties with memory, thinking and behavior.

Right now, almost 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number is expected to hit 14 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Maki said that women have a lifelong advantage in verbal memory, and that’s due to the hormone estrogen.

She said when younger women must have their ovaries removed, causing a sharp decline in estrogen, there’s also a sharp decline in verbal memory.

Verbal memory is also affected during menopause, when estrogen levels drop naturally. Maki said the brain typically learns to compensate and actually produces its own estrogen, which helps to preserve verbal memory.

“That verbal memory reserve gives women an advantage in maintaining memory functioning despite having Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain,” she said … Read the full story at US News.