Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive, chronic disease that ruins recall and cognitive functioning and eventually leads to death. Alzheimer's Disease seems to single out women for the brunt of its devastating effects. This is reflected in how many women suffer from Alzheimer's disease as patients and how many women take on the responsibility of caring for others with Alzheimer's. Researchers have found that Alzheimer's packs a one-two punch at women.
Researchers Yang and Levey note that women are more prone than men to get Alzheimer's in the first place, with a 38% greater risk of suffering from Alzheimer's than men. Women's treatment expenses related to Alzheimer's are also significantly higher than those for men for the following reasons.
Women have a 38% greater risk of suffering from Alzheimer's than men.
After a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, women generally outlive men with Alzheimer's by as much as six months, prolonging the time they need care. They are also more likely than men to be in an institution, with higher costs than home care. The cost to Medicare and Medicaid of women's care far outstrips the costs of men with Alzheimer's. More women than men tend to be Medicaid recipients because of their lower economic status due to widowhood and lower earnings throughout their lives.
Women also bear the brunt of caring for Alzheimer's patients as unpaid and informal caregivers. Almost 70% of unpaid caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are women, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Even when men help with the challenges of caring for Alzheimer's patients, they tend to take on the least difficult tasks, such as driving the person, reading to the person and giving spiritual counseling or support. Women, on the other hand, carry out the more taxing tasks of day-to-day, hands-on care: bathing or showering, feeding, dressing, and helping their Alzheimer's-afflicted loved ones take care of their needs at the toilet.
Almost 70% of unpaid caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are women.
Alzheimer's Disease can run its course for 8 to 10 years before it causes the death of the patient. A low average course of the disease, researchers estimate, is five years. That means that the women, who make up 70% of unpaid caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, spend five to ten years of their lives with their energies and finances challenged by the care of someone suffering from Alzheimer's (usually a spouse, parent, or grandparent).
Society cannot control whom Alzheimer's strikes and in what numbers, but the disease surely seems to prefer women. What society can control is how it responds to the needs for care of those who are afflicted with this disease, possibly distributing the burden of care more equitably.
Researchers don't know why Alzheimer's targets women. According to the Mayo Clinic, an association has been found between a life lived in a mentally and socially stimulating fashion and freedom from Alzheimer's. Can this be the key to why women suffer from the disease disproportionately to men?
Women are catching up to men in many ways, such as in the number of women who now have college degrees and more stimulating and objectively valued employment options. They still are expected to perform more household chores, though, which provide less mental stimulation than some leisure activities like reading books and newspapers or engaging in other mentally focused activities. An active social life also helps stave off Alzheimer's. Stay-at-home mothers who did not interact with co-workers, and women who bore the brunt of cooking, decorating and cleaning for at-home entertaining, or who hesitated to spend money and time socializing with friends may have been at a disadvantage in staving off Alzheimer's.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a positive association has been found between a mentally and socially stimulating life and freedom from Alzheimer's. Is this the key to why women suffer from the disease more often?
Mental and social stimulation, scientists believe, develops neural pathways in the brain, which tend to insulate it against the impact of Alzheimer's. Perhaps now, as more young women ascend in higher education and more women in general are promoted to management and executive positions and into the professions, all the while gaining in social confidence, Alzheimer's will become an equal opportunity disease.
Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer's Disease. Risk Factors. Available on online at
National Alliance for Caregiving in Collaboration with AARP. (2009). Executive Summary of Care Giving in the U.S., Washington, D.C.
Yang, Z. & Levey, A. (2015). Gender differences: A Lifetime Analysis of the Economic Burden of Alzheimer's Disease. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2015.06.001.
Women's Health Issues, Official Publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. Available online at: