Is Alzheimer s becoming a woman s disease?

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A new report produced by the Alzheimer's Foundation and Maria Shriver, California's first lady, concludes that women bear the biggest burden of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) — both as patients and caregivers. The report predicts that the rate of Alzheimer’s disease — a form of dementia and degenerative brain condition leading to memory loss, cognitive impairment, and ultimately death — will triple worldwide in the next 40 years due to an aging population that is living longer. Because women are more likely to live longer than men, the prevalence of the disease is higher in women. “Sixty percent of the people who get it are women,” said Maria Shriver. “They’re also doing the caretaking. And millions of these women are also working full-time.” However, a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic also suggests that mild cognitive impairment progresses more quickly into dementia in women than in men, who experience it earlier but remain stable longer.

The report ultimately calls on Congress to increase funding for Alzheimer’s studies that will facilitate earlier diagnosis and the development of more effective treatments. Particularly important, according to Dr. Ted Rothstein, a neurologist at George Washington University Medical Center, is more research into the role of the protein tau as a cause of Alzheimer’s disease and its use as a biomarker for early diagnosis. He wonders if tau may be even more important in causing AD then the previously targeted amyloid-beta.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan agrees. “We need more research into the disease patterns that occur in early Alzheimer’s disease. You can’t develop effective therapies when you’re dealing with a brain that is largely deteriorated. The trick is going to be to determine if these proteins cause the disease by catching it early and then try to stop or reverse it.”