Women and Alzheimer’s

Women let’s chat… we know both men and women get Alzheimer’s hence the need to have those uncomfortable conversations about the disease and how it’s affecting our lives. As a new brain develops Alz every 65 seconds, women are developing this disease at a disproportionately higher rate. Of the 5 million or more Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease two-thirds are women and studies are showing that it’s more prevalent in women compared to men because of lifestyle factors.

It’s not a disease due to old age as once thought to be the reason why women, who live longer than men, are at greater risk. But the early onset of Alzheimer’s may come about because of biological or genetic variations or social reasons such as differences in life experiences and choices, many which can be modifiable.

“Healthy lifestyle factors promote beneficial gene activity, while unhealthy lifestyle factors have the opposite effect. For example, women have higher rates of obesity and are less physically active. In addition, women have more mental health disorders, higher rates of insomnia, lower levels of educational attainment, and less mentally challenging occupations. All of these risk factors may be exacerbated by women’s lower socioeconomic status which is itself, a risk factor, ” notes Dr. Marie Pasinski.

Here are some facts from the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • In the US alone, about 13 MILLION WOMEN are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who has it.
  • Almost TWO-THIRDS of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Women in their 60s are more than TWICE AS LIKELY to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
  • MORE THAN 60% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women. More specifically, over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
  • Women take on MORE CAREGIVING TASKS than their male counterparts – and care for people with more cognitive, functional, and/or behavioral problems.
  • Nearly 19% of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to QUIT WORK either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome.

Another risk factor to consider is serving in the role of a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The majority of primary caregivers are women who are providing over 40 hours a week in care which cause many women to quit their job and/or face other negative impacts such as those listed above, including having economic insecurities, weight-gain, and depression.

When I was caring for my Mom, I remember asking myself when I fell ill or was beyond exhaustion, “who cares for the Caregiver?” I didn’t think I was depressed. I thought my inability or lack of enthusiasm to move forward with personal goals was due to being tired from my everyday duties. I decided to seek therapy which I highly recommend in general, and through talking with my therapist discovered much of what I was feeling and how I was handling things in relation to my life was brought on by my depression. One may not often know what to call it because depression’s symptoms mirror those of other conditions.

Here are facts on depression from Mental Health America:

  • Approximately 12 MILLION WOMEN in the United States experience clinical depression each year
  • About ONE in every EIGHT women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime
  • Social factors may also lead to higher rates of clinical depression among women, including stress from work, family responsibilities, the roles and expectations of women and increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty
  • Women experience depression at roughly TWICE THE RATE of men
  • Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men

These are our numbers ladies so what’s next? (and men too… we need all hands on deck)? We must have conversations about health and keep records of family medical history. Next let’s work to remove the stigma of mental health and Alzheimer’s by using your voice and advocating for and supporting our sister-caregivers.

Some may wonder how can they help. It may be fearful to ask, but help can come in the form of assisting with housekeeping, watching their loved one by keeping them entertained or fixing a meal which allows them to have a brief respite. You could offer to bring them groceries, a meal or medical supplies or be a support by talking with them, giving them a laugh; anything to lift their spirits and get their mind off of their duties will be appreciated.

You also have to continue the education on the relation to brain and physical health and learn to be the best version of ourselves. Remember a healthy body, our root, begets a healthy mind, our leaves. And we need to be our sister’s keeper by checking in on one another and as I always try to encourage, we need to share our stories. Knowledge is empowerment.

If you would like more information about Women and Alzheimer’s and the resources and support that’s available please visit the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.

For caregiver assistance or support, find tips here.

For depressions assistance go here.

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