Senior aged women may have a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to older men, a recent study reports. The older women had higher levels of tau, an Alzheimer’s protein, than same aged men. High levels of the tau protein positively increase the risk for serious brain disease and disability. This research was supported by the National Institute for Aging.
Senior Aged Women: Study Results
Previous studies showed that women are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to the same age group of men. Overall, more women contract and suffer from Alzheimer’s than men do. But, the reasons for this difference are currently not known.
A recent study done at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, found that protein levels of tau emblematic of Alzheimer’s disease were higher in women than in men. The tau protein congregated in the cortex area responsible for learning and memory.
PET brain scans from two studies were evaluated. Subjects were aged men and women, ages 74 and older. All subjects demonstrated normal cognitive function at the first brain scan to measure tau. They also had PET scans to measure beta-amyloid, another Alzheimer’s-related protein.
Experts believe that beta-amyloid and tau proteins, interact early in Alzheimer’s disease progression, years before memory loss and other symptoms appear. Compared to the men’s scans, the women’s scans showed significantly higher tau deposits in the cortex in individuals with high beta-amyloid levels.
There were no significant male-female differences in beta-amyloid levels alone. Nor was there any evidence of a higher genetic risk factor such as the APOE ɛ4, in women compared to men.
Additional research is underway to get a better understanding of sex differences in the biological processes of Alzheimer’s. Small studies are limited by recruitment procedures and survivor rates (the effects of women generally outliving men). But having similar results across two studies is intriguing and a promising direction for future research.