Why Do More Women Than Men Have Dementia?

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If you walk into a memory care facility like Sunshine Care and meet our residents, you’ll probably notice something right away. Most of our residents are women. We are not the exception to the rule. In fact, if you were to take a tour of every memory care facility in America, you’d see the same thing over and over: many more women than men. The vast majority of people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia are women. Why is this, and does it mean that women are at higher risk than men of developing dementia?

The Surprising Gender Disparity of Alzheimer’s

When the Alzheimer’s Association put out its masterpiece review of Alzheimer’s in 2014, one of its many salient points was this stark fact: “Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.” The association estimates that roughly five million Americans over the age of 65 in the United States have dementia. Of those 3.2 million are women.

That’s not just a slight gender difference. That is a big, big difference. In fact, these numbers make it easy to assume that women are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia than men. Surprisingly, our most current research shows that isn’t the case. What is the real reason behind this huge discrepancy in rates of dementia between the genders?

It All Comes Down to Age

You’ve probably heard that a lot of different factors can increase your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. It is true that if family members develop certain types of dementia you are at greater risk, and studies have shown that certain things like regularly exercising and having a higher level of education correlate to a decreased chance of developing dementia. However, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the greatest risk factor, by far, of developing Alzheimer’s is advanced age. The organization found that “Of those with Alzheimer’s disease, the vast majority (82 percent) are age 75 or older.”

Suddenly, it’s starting to make sense why women are so much more likely to have Alzheimer’s than men. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the average life expectancy of men in the United States is 76.3 years, while the average life expectancy of women is 81.1 years.

Since 82 percent of people with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 75, it’s highly likely that a good portion of men in America simply aren’t living long enough to develop Alzheimer’s!

Is Age the Only Reason More Women Than Men Have Alzheimer’s?

Is age the only factor that explains why so many more women than men have dementia and Alzheimer’s? Since we know that educational achievement correlates with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and it was much less common for women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s to go to college, could that be a factor?

The Alzheimer’s Association doesn’t think so. In its report, the organization states, “the observation that more women than men have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is primarily explained by the fact that women live longer, on average, than men.”

This finding should make the ladies breathe a sigh of relief. Even though women are more likely to one day face the prospect of Alzheimer’s, it’s only because they have a greater chance of living a long life!

Men and Women Welcome at Sunshine Care

Here at Sunshine Care, we welcome male and female residents with open arms. We work hard to develop an activities calendar that provides entertainment and fun for both genders, and we can certainly provide great, personalized care for both genders.

If you’d like to learn more about our facility here in Poway, California, please contact us to schedule a tour.


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3 replies

  1. I assume there have been studies done to exclude an even simpler explanation for the gender disparity other than age? – that there is a gene for Alzheimers Dementia and that it is recessive and on the X chromosome?

  2. Laura, this is a good question. So far, only a few forms of dementia have been strongly linked to genetics, and these are very rare diseases, like Huntington’s. There does, however, seem to be some genetic factors that play a role in a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. So far, I haven’t found any research to suggest that women are more genetically inclined to be at risk of Alzheimer’s then men. Here is a good article from the Alzheimer’s Society that looks at genetic links to dementia. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20010/risk_factors_and_prevention/117/genetics_of_dementia/8

  3. Two women I was very close to who had “severe” cases of dementia, were very dependent on their husbands. Wonder if they just stopped thinking for themselves and succumbed to dementia through lack of mental exercise. I miss them both so much.

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