Almost two-thirds of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s in the United States are women. Two studies, one done in California and one done in the United Kingdom, have now found that a woman’s sex hormones may be responsible for the high incidences of dementia in women.
There are three times in a woman’s life when her sex hormones fluctuate. These are during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Menopause is the only time the sex hormones reduce, while they increase earlier in life during puberty and pregnancy.
The California study concluded that women that had three or more children had a 12 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those that only had one child. The study also found that women that began menstruating earlier in life and went through menopause later were less likely to develop dementia. Those that reached menopause at the age of 45 or younger were more likely to develop dementia by 28 percent. The U.K. studied backed up these findings.
While neither study concluded exactly why the sex hormones contributed to a woman’s risk of developing some form of dementia, they did suggest that it is likely the fluctuation of hormones that increases a woman’s risk. The more change in a woman’s hormones throughout her life, the greater risk she has for developing dementia.
“While a woman has no say over when her body goes through these changes,” says Dr. Edward Jacobson of Greenwich Gynecology LLC, “there is some intervention possible. Hormone therapy replacement can reduce the amount of fluctuation naturally occurring in a woman’s body during menopause. It just needs to be done at the right time.”
Studies back that up. Two separate studies found that when women take hormone replacement therapy after the age of 65, they were actually more likely to have memory problems. However, when women between the ages of 50 and 54 start on hormone replacement therapy, they did not have any trouble with cognitive functions.
That younger age group is also the one most likely to experience hot flashes, which have also been found to contribute to increased memory loss. However in this case, hormone replacement therapy can help repair the memory occurring as a result of hot flashes.
The studies done, on both a woman’s hormones and her risk of developing dementia, as well as the idea of hormone replacement therapy as treatment, are important. While hormone replacement therapy has decreased in recent years, these new findings show that it could be the exact prevention method needed to reduce the high numbers of women suffering from Alzheimer’s around the country.