Last week, we highlighted some of the major gender differences in Alzheimer’s research and why two-thirds of those diagnosed with the disease are women.
Now we’ve learned about a new study out of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL that suggests there are thousands of men living with Alzheimer’s who have yet to be diagnosed since current testing is more likely to miss the disease in men than in women. Researchers studied the brains of more than 1600 individuals at the Florida Brain Bank for research. The researchers at Mayo Clinic, led by Melissa E. Murray, assistant professor of neuroscience, were able to diagnose Alzheimer’s in previously undiagnosed men and women by the presence of tau and amyloid proteins in the brains – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Thirty-four percent of the men who were found to have Alzheimer’s had been mis- or un-diagnosed, while only 22 percent of women had not received a correct diagnosis.
The researchers also found that the areas of the brain affected by the tau and amyloid proteins were often different in men and women. With women, the limbic area of the brain was most often affected. The limbic area includes the hippocampus, which coordinates memory. Men’s brains were most often affected in different areas, so the memory loss that is so frequently associated with Alzheimer’s disease may not have been an issue for the men, thus inhibiting a proper diagnosis.
If the memory center of the brain isn’t affected, doctors may attribute other signs of Alzheimer’s disease, such as motor dysfunction, impaired language ability, behavioral problems, and apathy, to other conditions and may miss Alzheimer’s altogether. Murray said these patients’ disease is not “textbook,” which makes diagnosis more difficult.
The team also found that, at least in the brains they studied, Alzheimer’s disease begins to develop at a younger age in men than in women. The onset for men spiked in their 60s, and for women, it was in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.
Their findings, the researchers believe, present evidence that the gap between men and women with Alzheimer’s may not be as large as it seems. It may be that under-diagnosis in men is at least partially to blame for the differences in percentages.
Most likely, there are many factors that play into the fact that the percentage of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is two-thirds women. Genetics, age, gender, susceptible chromosomes, and the areas of the brain affected may all play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s and the likelihood it will be diagnosed. But this study does provide some evidence that perhaps the gap between women and men with Alzheimer’s disease isn’t as great as statistics would have us believe.
Since memory loss can present itself differently in men and women, it’s extremely important to be able to recognize and spot the early signs of dementia.
is extremely important. The more information you have, the more likely you’ll be to be able to recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s in a loved one – or even yourself. Knowledge is power. And early diagnosis can lead to better, more effective dementia care plans and strategies.
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