Why Women Have a Higher Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Why Women Have a Higher Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

July 03, 2024   156

Alzheimer's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, affects millions globally. Women are disproportionately impacted, making up nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer's patients. This article examines the reasons behind this gender disparity, with insights from the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.

Research at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is pioneering research on Alzheimer's, particularly focusing on the higher risk faced by women. Supported by Maria Shriver, the center emphasizes female-specific research and caregiving support, aiming to uncover the unique factors contributing to women's increased vulnerability to Alzheimer's.

Research at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Genetic Predisposition

Genetics play a crucial role in Alzheimer's risk. Women are more likely to carry the APOE ε4 gene, a significant genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's. This gene is associated with increased amyloid plaque formation, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Women with the APOE ε4 gene have a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer's compared to men with the same gene. Furthermore, the interaction between APOE ε4 and hormonal changes during menopause may exacerbate the risk, making genetic predisposition a critical area of study for understanding why women are more susceptible to Alzheimer's.

APOE ε4 Gene and Alzheimer's Disease The APOE (Apolipoprotein E) gene is essential in metabolizing fats in the body. It comes in several alleles, with APOE ε4 being the variant most strongly linked to Alzheimer's disease. Carriers of this allele have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's, and this risk is particularly pronounced in women. Research suggests that estrogen levels, which decline during menopause, may interact with the APOE ε4 allele, influencing the onset and progression of Alzheimer's more significantly in women than in men.

Interaction with Biological Processes The interaction between the APOE ε4 gene and other biological processes contributes to the higher incidence of Alzheimer's in women. For example, women with this gene variant may experience more significant amyloid-beta accumulation and tau pathology, which are critical factors in Alzheimer's development. Additionally, the gene's influence on cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses in the brain may further elevate the risk for women.

Implications for Research and Treatment Understanding the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's, particularly the role of the APOE ε4 gene, is crucial for developing targeted prevention and treatment strategies. Ongoing research at institutions like the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health focuses on exploring these genetic interactions and identifying potential therapeutic interventions that could mitigate the increased risk faced by women.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle choices significantly impact Alzheimer's risk. Women, especially as they age, may face challenges such as less physical activity and poorer dietary habits, which can contribute to cognitive decline. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and mental stimulation, can help mitigate these risks .

Alcohol induced alzheimer

Alcohol-induced Alzheimer's disease" refers to a condition where chronic and heavy alcohol consumption contributes to cognitive decline and memory impairment similar to Alzheimer's disease. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage brain cells, disrupt neurotransmitter function, and contribute to the formation of protein deposits in the brain, all of which are hallmarks of Alzheimer's. This condition highlights the detrimental impact of alcohol abuse on brain health and underscores the importance of moderation in alcohol consumption to prevent cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases.

Hormonal Changes and Menopause

Hormonal changes, particularly during menopause, are a critical factor in women's Alzheimer's risk. During menopause, there is a significant decline in estrogen levels, which is associated with increased amyloid plaque formation in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

Estrogen plays a vital role in protecting neurons and maintaining their normal function. This hormone aids in synaptic plasticity, the process by which neurons communicate and form new connections. It also has antioxidant properties that help reduce oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells.

The decline in estrogen during menopause disrupts these protective mechanisms. Reduced estrogen levels lead to decreased synaptic plasticity and increased oxidative stress, both of which contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, lower estrogen levels can affect glucose metabolism in the brain, further impairing cognitive function.

Understanding these hormonal influences is essential for developing targeted prevention and treatment strategies. Research is ongoing to explore hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a potential intervention to mitigate Alzheimer's risk in postmenopausal women. HRT aims to restore estrogen levels and counteract the adverse effects of its decline. However, the timing, dosage, and long-term effects of HRT require careful consideration to balance benefits and potential risks.

Overall, the connection between hormonal changes during menopause and Alzheimer's highlights the need for a personalized approach to women's health, considering individual hormonal profiles and risk factors. This understanding can lead to more effective strategies for reducing the incidence and impact of Alzheimer's disease among women.

Maria Shriver's Contribution
Maria Shriver

Maria Shriver has been a pivotal advocate for Alzheimer's research, particularly focusing on women. Her efforts in founding the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and promoting female-specific studies have brought significant attention to the unique challenges women face with Alzheimer's.

Shriver's journey into Alzheimer's advocacy began with her personal experience. Her father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with the disease, sparking her deep commitment to understanding and combating Alzheimer's. Recognizing the disproportionate impact of Alzheimer's on women, both as patients and caregivers, she has dedicated her work to addressing this gender disparity.

Founding the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

One of Shriver's significant contributions is the founding of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. This state-of-the-art facility is dedicated to advancing the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's. The center focuses on comprehensive patient care, innovative research, and educational outreach, aiming to improve the quality of life for those affected by Alzheimer's and other brain disorders.

Promoting Female-Specific Studies

Shriver has been instrumental in promoting research that specifically addresses how Alzheimer's affects women. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop Alzheimer's, and they often face unique challenges in diagnosis and progression of the disease. Shriver has advocated for increased funding and attention to these differences, emphasizing the need for tailored prevention and treatment strategies.

The Women's Alzheimer's Movement

In 2010, Shriver launched The Women's Alzheimer's Movement (WAM), an initiative focused on raising awareness about the impact of Alzheimer's on women and funding research to uncover the underlying causes of this disparity. WAM supports groundbreaking studies and clinical trials that explore the hormonal, genetic, and lifestyle factors contributing to women's increased risk of Alzheimer's. The movement also aims to educate women about the steps they can take to protect their brain health.

Current Studies and Findings

Recent studies at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center have shed light on various aspects of Alzheimer's in women. Researchers are exploring the impact of hormonal therapies, genetic markers, and lifestyle interventions to better understand and address the gender disparity in Alzheimer's prevalence .

Preventive Measures

Preventive measures are crucial in reducing Alzheimer's risk. Women are encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle, engage in regular physical activity, eat a nutritious diet, and get adequate sleep. Additionally, managing cardiovascular health and staying mentally active can further lower the risk of cognitive decline . For additional support and resources, visit ProLife Healthcare Services.

Support and Resources for Women

Numerous resources are available for women at risk of or affected by Alzheimer's. Support groups, educational programs, and caregiving resources provide essential assistance. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health offers various programs tailored to women's needs, helping them navigate the challenges of Alzheimer's.

  • Alzheimer's Association Caregiver Center: Offers tools, tips, and support for managing caregiving responsibilities. The center provides resources on daily care, safety issues, and caregiver health. Visit their Caregiver Center for more information​ (Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia)​.

  • Alzheimer’s & related Dementias Education & Referral (ADEAR) Center: A service of the National Institute on Aging, ADEAR offers reliable information on Alzheimer's and connects caregivers to essential services. You can contact them at 800-438-4380 or visit Alzheimers.gov for more details​ (Alzheimers.gov)​.

  • Eldercare Locator: This public service helps caregivers find local support services, including respite care, adult day programs, and home care. You can reach them at 800-677-1116 or explore their services at Eldercare.acl.gov​ (Alzheimers.gov)​.


Recognizing the reasons behind women's heightened susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease is crucial for crafting effective prevention and treatment methods. Factors such as genetic predisposition, lifestyle choices, and hormonal changes contribute to this elevated risk. Ongoing research, advocacy, and support are fundamental in tackling this gender disparity and enhancing the prognosis for women living with Alzheimer's. 

Anna Klyauzova
LinkedIn Profile


  • What is Alzheimer's disease? Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, eventually impairing the ability to carry out daily activities. It is the most common cause of dementia.

  • What is Alzheimer? "Alzheimer" often refers to Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative condition characterized by cognitive decline and memory loss.

  • What is the best treatment for Alzheimer's? Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms, such as medications to temporarily improve cognitive function or manage behavioral symptoms.

  • What is the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia? Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms, including memory loss and cognitive decline, while Alzheimer's disease is a specific disease and the most common cause of dementia.

  • People with Alzheimer's disease have a deficiency in which neurotransmitter? People with Alzheimer's disease often have a deficiency in acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.

  • What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer? See answer to question 4.

  • Alzheimer's disease involves deterioration of which of the following? Alzheimer's disease involves deterioration of brain tissue and nerve cells, particularly in areas associated with memory and cognitive functions.

  • What causes Alzheimer's? The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is not fully understood, but it involves a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that contribute to the abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain.

  • Which of the following are the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease? Characteristics include progressive memory loss, confusion, disorientation, mood and behavior changes, difficulty speaking, swallowing problems in later stages, and ultimately, the inability to perform daily tasks.

  • How long does it take to die from Alzheimer's disease? The progression of Alzheimer's disease varies widely among individuals. On average, people may live from 4 to 8 years after diagnosis, but this can range from 3 to 20 years depending on various factors like age, health, and the progression of the disease.



ProLife Home Care