Why do more women develop Alzheimer’s disease than men?

Dr. Gillian Einstein

Dr. Gillian Einstein is addressing the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease among women. Hopefully, her work will lead to innovative treatments.

January 9, 2017

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, 72% of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Is that because of their biological sex at birth? Does it have to do with the fact that women live longer than men? Or are there other contributing factors?

Dr. Gillian Einstein, a Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in Women’s Brain Health and Aging and faculty member of psychology at the University of Toronto, is trying to find answers to these questions. For example, she is examining how early menopause can lower estrogen and cause memory loss among women. Dr. Einstein is studying whether cancer prevention through the removal of a woman’s ovaries and fallopian tubes can decrease her estrogen levels, interact with other metabolic markers and genes, and then affect her cognition.

“As the brainchild of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Brain Institute, and the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, this Chair is unique worldwide,” said Dr. Einstein. “Because there is so much to understand about what keeps a woman’s brain healthy over her lifespan, it would be a wonderful outcome if there were more Chairs created in Women’s Brain Health and Aging.”

There is also the possibility that researchers are looking at Alzheimer’s disease from a sociological perspective, in their belief that the structure of men’s and women’s brains are the same. As a result, this could be limiting the results of their studies. So Dr. Einstein is mentoring the next generation of psychologists and neuroscientists to change this perspective so that researchers examine how different genes, hormones, diet, and exercise could have an impact on the development of the disease among men and women.

Dr. Einstein mentors students at the University of Toronto

As the President and Founder of Women’s Brain Health Initiative and a daughter of Wilfred and Joyce Posluns, Lynn Posluns appreciates Dr. Einstein’s work and hopes her research will lead to interventions that stop cognitive decline.

“Building capacity in brain-aging disease research that accounts for gender and sex – that is, social and biological influences – on brain health and aging, will help us to better understand the unique risks for the two sexes, why differences exist, what the different outcomes are and whether they should be treated differently,” said Ms. Posluns.

Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Gender and Health, emphasizes the value of communicating Dr. Einstein’s findings to the Canadian public.

“Thanks to the participation of female patients in her research, Dr. Einstein will be able to translate her scientific findings regarding Alzheimer’s disease to professional and public communities,” said Dr. Tannenbaum. “This will undoubtedly lead to innovative treatments and health equity regarding this disease in the future.”

Almost ¾ of Canadians who live with Alzheimer’s disease are women.

Alzheimer’s Society of Canada

Dr. Einstein is examining how Alzheimer’s disease could be more prevalent among women because of lower estrogen levels. This, in turn, could have an impact on current sociological research perspectives that men’s and women’s brains are similar.

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