Alzheimer’s Association Looks at Gender

Photo courtesy Alzheimer's Association

Photo courtesy Alzheimer’s Association

Nearly two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. It’s a statistic drawing attention from researchers.

“Research showed us how women experience heart disease differently from men. We need to look at Alzheimer’s in a similar way,” says Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer.

Great Care is taking note, as recently the first-ever Alzheimer’s Association Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) research grant awards were designated to provide $2.2 million to nine projects to advance understanding of the disproportionate effect of Alzheimer’s disease on women.

“If we can better understand the disease processes and progression in men and women, we have an opportunity to tailor how we approach detection, diagnosis, and therapeutic approaches based on sex,” Dr. Carrillo says.

Among Americans age 71 and older, 16 percent of women have Alzheimer’s or dementia compared with 11 percent of men, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. It is unknown why more women than men are living with this disease.

There are several theories, including differences between the sexes regarding length of life, duration of disease, and when they approach their doctor for guidance/diagnosis. In addition, there may be distinct biological and genetic contributions that differ between the sexes.

“As a core part of this discussion, we must explore fundamental differences in biological characteristics and lifestyle factors between the sexes that may play a role to the disproportionate impact on women,” Dr. Carrillo says.

Each of the SAGA grant-funded projects will receive approximately $250,000. The majority of the investigations are examining relationships between hormones, genetics and the development of Alzheimer’s. Other key themes include differences in men’s and women’s brains that may contribute to the development or progression of the disease, and sex-specific response to Alzheimer’s risk factors.

As a direct result of the think tank, the Alzheimer’s Association announced the SAGA funding initiative. SAGA is the only active, multi-project, research funding effort focused on filling previously identified knowledge gaps related to potential sex differences in Alzheimer’s.

“With SAGA, there is a potential for discovery that could open a whole new world in terms of how we treat people with dementia in the physician’s office,” adds Brinton. “There is also an opportunity to improve the way we test new therapies. By better understanding how the disease progresses differently in men and women, we can adjust treatment and the ways we measure effectiveness to be more precise. This could lead to potentially better, more successful clinical trials.”

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Julie Sullivan is the Owner at Great Care of Indianapolis, Indiana.
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