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Published on: March 17, 2016
by Samantha Costa for U.S. News:
Women have the upper hand when it comes to remembering words in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s according to a study published Wednesday in Neurology.
The new research includes 235 people with Alzheimer’s disease, 694 people with mild cognitive impairment (including memory problems) and 379 people with no memory or thinking problems. Participants were administered the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test – a test used to evaluate memory using spoken words and repetition – to determine if gender changes the relationship between verbal memory and brain volume.
Each group’s verbal memory test results were compared to the size of the hippocampal section of the brain – an area affected by the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease that controls verbal memory. Women outscored men for both immediate recall and delayed recall among participants whose hippocampal area of the brain showed shrinkage.
“One way to interpret the results is that because women have better verbal memory skills than men throughout life, women have a buffer of protection against loss of verbal memory before the effects of Alzheimer’s disease kick in,” study author Erin E. Sundermann, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, said in a press relaese. “Because verbal memory tests are used to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, these tests may fail to detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in women until they are further along in the disease.”
In other words, compared to men, women have superior brain volume and cognitive function. However, this could be a disadvantage when it comes to early disease detection, according to an accompanying editorial written by Mary Sano and Dr. Sam Gandy of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
If these results are confirmed with subsequent studies, the current memory tests used to account for differences between men and women at diagnosis may be reinvented, according to the study authors.
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