Various theories have attempted to explain the higher incidence among women; however, as with many aspects of dementia, the reasons for the disparity remain unclear. The prevailing view, according to the report, is that women tend to live longer than men, and are therefore more likely than their male counterparts to reach an age where they are at higher risk. Other studies have noted that men with Alzheimer's are more likely to die of other conditions, like heart disease, between the age of 45 and 65, which might account for there being fewer men over age 65 with the condition. Still, the scientific evidence remains sparse, the report says.
It's not just Alzheimer's incidence where women are disproportionately affected. The report also looked at unpaid caregivers, who provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of care in 2013, a contribution valued at more than $220.2 billion that year.
These individuals perform a multitude of tasks, including directly administering medications; bathing and grooming; managing aggressive behavior; and handling shopping, legal and transportation needs. Sixty-five percent of caregivers looking after people with some form of dementia are women, the report finds; 21% are age 65 and older themselves, and are therefore at higher risk of developing the disease.
Few individuals with dementia have enough long-term-care insurance or the means to pay out of pocket for healthcare services for as long as the services are needed.
Investments into research for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS have resulted in substantial decreases in death for people affected by those diseases, and the Alzheimer’s Association says it would like to see the same progress. Research has revealed a great deal about Alzheimer's over the past century, but there remains little knowledge on the precise biologic changes that cause it; why the condition progresses at different rates; and how to prevent, slow and stop the disease, according to the association.
“We don’t want to take money away from cancer or heart disease - we want to bring it up to the same level. That’s why those diseases are declining,” Hartley says. “Moving the needle will depend on the research dollars. It’s the research that will stop people from dying from Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
Alzheimer's is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, but a study published earlier this month in the journal Neurology found the disease may actually cause up to six times as many deaths as what is commonly reported, and may be closer to the number of deaths caused by heart disease and cancer. The condition cannot be reversed with current treatments, and efforts to establish drugs for treatment have continued to see setbacks. Several researchers are looking into biomarkers with the hopes of detecting the disease in the preclinical stages, and possibly offsetting progression, but there is no diagnostic criteria available to date.
Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHSRice