The ravages of Alzheimer’s may strike later in women than men, but once it takes hold women tend to deteriorate far faster than men, according to a new study.
Something known as cognitive reserve helps the aging brain function better for longer, and researchers report that women appear to have more of it than men. But once the reserve runs out, mental decline in women speeds up.
“Women appear to have faster cognitive decline than men. And these sex differences in cognitive decline might be due to differences in sex hormones, structural brain development, genetics, psychosocial factors, lifestyle factors, functional connectivity and brain pathology,” said lead researcher Dr. Deborah Levine, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.
This pattern of rapid decline might mean that women are at risk for a late or delayed diagnosis of cognitive decline, she said.
Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said, “This is completely consistent with the notion that for whatever reason, there is a cognitive reserve ‘cliff.'”
Higher education is associated with some delay in aging-related decline, but once the decline begins, the slope is much steeper — the decline per year is faster, said Gandy, who wasn’t part of the study.