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Published on: September 6, 2012
by Connie K. Ho for Red Orbit:
Researchers recently created a set of recommendations for future research possibilities regarding the reasons behind Alzheimer’s disease (AD) for women.
According to the medical experts, almost two-thirds of people in the U.S. have the disorder. As a result, the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) decided to have an interdisciplinary roundtable of individuals from clinical medicine, industry, government and academia to delve into the gender and sex differences in AD.
The causes of AD include factors like age and sex, with a two to one ratio of women outnumbering men affected by the disorder. The SWHR, a non-profit organization, placed the roundtable participants in four categories based on their knowledge base. The participants were then asked to look at their own research, examining the areas where sex and gender differences could be determined and analyzed.
“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) disproportionately affects women in both prevalence and severity; however, the biologic mechanisms underlying these sex differences are not fully understood. Sex differences in the brain, such as in brain anatomy, age-related declines in brain volume, and brain glucose metabolism, have been documented and may be important in understanding AD etiology. The full impact of sex as a basic biologic variable on this neurodegenerative disease remains elusive,” wrote the authors in the report.
It is hoped that sex and gender differences will be evaluated in future studies regarding AD. The consensus of the group that created the recommendations was that the connection between sex and AD incidence should be better understood. As well, researchers should increase awareness of sex differences and to consider the sex-based differences related to data analysis or experimental design that can affect results focused on risk of the disease.
“Women not only are disproportionately affected by the disease itself but also are often primary caretakers of family members affected by AD,” reported the researchers in the article.
The scientists defined AD as a progressive neurodegenerative disease that included behavior changes, cognitive defects and memory loss.
“The disease weaves an insidious path of destruction in the regions of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and higher executive functioning,” noted the researchers in the article. “Although AD was first identified over 100 years ago, little is known about the physiologic changes that trigger the disease, and current available treatments are unable to slow or reverse the damage.”
AD and other related dementia affects approximately 5.4 million people in the U.S. Scientists believe that this number could increase to 11 to 16 million people by 2050 if there are no treatments or methods of prevention created. In the U.S., it is the sixth leading cause of death and the fifth leading cause of the death of elderly over age 65.
“There is much to be explored in the realm of sex and gender differences in AD, but a wealth of data ready for meta-analysis is being accumulated. Sex differences research in AD is aimed toward improving early diagnosis, better quality of life, and safer, more effective treatments.
Sex differences in AD are important, and every study should stratify and report data by sex and carefully consider the ramifications for sex differences across all aspects of the disease,” concluded the authors in the report. “Further, treatments for AD must take into account basic biologic (sex) differences and the gender-specific needs of our patients. Finally, we need to conduct more research on ways to better meet the needs of people with this dreadful disease so that both the caregivers and the patients see an improvement in their quality and length of life.”
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