Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. AD disproportionately affects women in both prevalence and severity. Important differences exist between men and women in AD, from the likelihood of being diagnosed with the disease to genetic and hormonal differences in the risk for acquiring it.

Numbers and Statistics

  • 3 million Americans are living with AD, including an estimated 200,000 under the age of 65. This number is expected to increase to 16 million by 2050.
  • Almost two thirds of Americans with AD are women.
  • 70% of caregivers of individuals with AD are women, and reports indicate that 65% of caregivers suffer from depression.

Sex and Gender Differences

  • Women with increased brain changes that define AD are more likely than men to be diagnosed with AD, and such brain changes are more likely to be expressed as dementia in women than in men.
  • Having one copy of the form of the gene known to be the strongest genetic risk factor for AD has been shown to give women about a four-fold increased risk of AD, whereas men with one copy of the form of this gene show little increased risk.
  • A form of another gene associated with AD has been shown to increase the risk for the disease in women but not in men.
  • Loss of estrogen, a female sex hormone known to have a protective effect on the brain, during menopause could lead to brain deficits typical of AD.
  • In the past century, men have had more opportunities for higher education and occupational attainment, two factors that may protect against AD.

Research Update: 2015

  • There is an interaction between gender and cognitive function, most notable in verbal episodic memory; female patients in the early stage of AD performed worse on verbal episodic memory than men. Verbal episodic memory represents our memory of experiences and events that are verbal in nature, meaning the memories are associated with words.
Watch a Short Video about Sex Differences
in the Brain

Last Update: November 2012