News / Health

Study Shows Alzheimer's Hits Women Hardest

Vidushi Sinha

A new study on Alzheimer's disease shows that women end up bearing most of the burden - as caregivers, advocates for those with the disease and as victims of the disease itself. The report asks Congress to pass a comprehensive strategy to manage this growing US epidemic. But the epidemic is not limited to western countries.

Every seven seconds, a new case of dementia is diagnosed somewhere in the world, according to the Alzheimer's Association.  

A new report takes a look at Alzheimer's, a disease expected to triple in 40 years because it's associated with aging, and people the world over are living longer.

The report was produced by the Alzheimer's Association and Maria Shriver, California's First Lady.

Shriver's life has been touched by Alzheimer's. Her father was diagnosed with the disease in 2003.

That experience was the catalyst for The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's.

"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."

The report examines Alzheimer's in the U.S. It shows that women account for almost two-thirds of those with the disease. They are also 60 percent of the unpaid caregivers. Scientists and sociologists are calling this disease - a women's disease.

Dr. Ted Rothstein, a neurologist at George Washington University Medical Center, says women are more affected because men have shorter lifespans.

"When you reach the 75 to 85 age group, there are many more women out there than men, and the prevalence of the disease becomes more likely in women simply because there are more women around who are still living in their 80s and 85s," said Dr. Rothstein.

The report predicts Americans will spend $20 trillion over the next 40 years on Alzheimer's. It stresses the need for more funding for research and a national strategy to deal with the disease.

"Heart disease and cancer get $6 billion, $5 billion, and Alzheimer's gets $500 million," said Maria Shriver. "And, in fact, it's going to be Alzheimer's in the next several years that's going to get those people way before cancer or heart disease."

Dr. Rothstein says there needs to be more research on one of two proteins that accumulate in the brains of those with Alzheimer's. The proteins are called tau and amyloids.   

"It's only recently that people have been focusing on tau as the source for Alzheimer's disease so maybe the buildup of amyloids in the brain is secondary to the accumulation of these tau proteins," he said. "So we may have been barking up the wrong tree and maybe the big pharmaceutical companies have been following the wrong clue."

As the world's population ages, the number of people affected by Alzheimer's is expected to increase dramatically. There is no cure. Existing treatments only ease the symptoms.

Meanwhile Alzheimer cases are expected to affect 80 million people globally by 2040. Sixty percent will be in developing countries.

A disproportionate number of those cases will be women without access to effective treatment.

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