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Something else for women to fret about: A greater risk of Alzheimer's

More good news for women (not): More of them are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease than men.

The Alzheimer’s Assn.’s recently released annual report on the grim facts and figures of this debilitating disease and other related dementias says that an estimated 3.2 million women aged 65 and older in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s. That’s two-thirds of the 5 million seniors in America with the disease.

Just looking at this statistically, the association reports that 65-year-old women not afflicted with Alzheimer’s still have a 1 in 6 chance of getting it. Men that age have a 1 in 11 chance.

And who’s taking care of all these people with dementia?  You guessed it: other women. Because they make up the lion’s share of caregivers, paid and unpaid.

Although the association chose to spotlight this particularly hard-hit group in its report, we’ve known for years that more women than men suffer from dementia. The Alzheimer’s Assn. contends that age is still the greatest risk factor, and that the reason so many more women than men have it is because women, on average, live longer than men. There are some scientific investigators who believe that women do have a specific risk associated with their gender and suggest that a lack of estrogen in older women leaves them more vulnerable to the particular protein buildup in the brains of people suffering from dementia. But there is no consensus, yet, that gender is an issue.

Another grim reminder: No drug on the market prevents it, stops it or even slows its progression, although the association’s report notes that five drugs that “temporarily” lessen symptoms have been approved by the FDA.

But there are new research projects and clinical trials in the works or waiting for funding. The federal government has focused more attention and steadily upped its monetary investment in research on Alzheimer’s in the last few years, to the point that federal funding for Alzheimer’s and related dementias is estimated to be $666 million this fiscal year. That’s good. But it could use more funding. The one thing we know about dementia is that the most significant risk factor is aging. That means, provided we live long enough, we are all at risk.

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