Why are women disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s?

Should we be more worried about our mothers and grandmothers being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease than our fathers and grandfathers? This could be the case as according to the Alzheimer’s Society in 2019, it was estimated that 850,000 people are living with dementia in the United Kingdom, but, the astonishing part is that almost two-thirds of those diagnosed are women [1]. At first glance, we may think the fact that women have a longer life expectancy (making them more likely to reach the age of increased risk) is the stand-alone reason as to why Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men, however, the matter is much more complex than that.


Even though definite reasons for the gender disproportion remain elusive, The Alzheimer’s Association has invested millions into fourteen different projects to learn more as to why the female population is bearing a disproportionate amount of the Alzheimer’s burden.


The research found that genetics and social factors along with different lifestyles are more at play than longevity alone.

When looking at genetic clues, it all comes down to a powerful single gene known as ApoE4. Researchers from Stanford University analysed the medical records of 8,000 people and were able to conclude that having the gene variant doubles your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. However, this is only true for women while “men’s fate doesn’t seem to be altered nearly as much by the genetic bad penny that is ApoE4” [2]. It is perplexing as to how a single gene can pose such an increased risk for a woman, however, a possible explanation for this biological attribute is how the gene interacts with oestrogen, a hormone that is crucial for cognitive function in older women.


Now, to explore how social determinants play a role in Alzheimer’s in women. The University of California conducted research about work-life which involved analysing the data of 6,386 women from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study [3].


The study followed participants for 34 years and found that memory decline was 61 per cent higher in women who stopped working after being married and having children compared to those that decided to remain employed.

It is believed that consistent cognitive stimulation from a work environment helps prevent cognitive decline and could be a way to reduce the Alzheimer’s burden on women.

So how can Occuity help in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s? Whilst we are currently developing a non-contact handheld device that uses innovative optical technology to screen for diabetes through a simple scan of the eye, we hope to build upon this technology by applying our knowledge and research to design a device that can be used for the screening of Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst this potential device is still some way off in our product roadmap, we have high hopes that our current work and technological advancements will allow us to deliver a device that will make earlier diagnosis easier and will open the door to future care and treatment options.


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[1]. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-us/news-and-media/facts-media.

[2]. https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/04/14/having-a-copy-of-apoe-gene-variant-doublesalzheimers-risk-for-women-but-not-for-men/.

[3]. https://hrs.isr.umich.edu

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