Most Women Unaware of Alzheimer’s Risk, Survey Finds

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by Mary Chapman |

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Women in the United States are largely uninformed when it comes to some critical health issues, including their relatively higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as compared to men, according to a comprehensive survey about the state of women’s health.

Results of the survey conducted by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, provide a snapshot of the state of the health of U.S. women and factors that contribute to the burgeoning number of Alzheimer’s cases.

Survey findings were presented recently at the Aspen Ideas: Health Festival by Maria Shriver, WAM founder and strategic partner for women’s health and Alzheimer’s at the Cleveland Clinic, along with Beri Ridgeway, MD, the clinic’s chief of staff.

WAM found it “startling” that, for instance, 82% of survey respondents were unaware of their increased risk for Alzheimer’s, although women represent two-thirds of all cases. Further, 73% indicated they have not discussed their cognitive health with their providers, and 62% haven’t talked with them about menopause or perimenopause. Studies have shown that these transitional reproductive intervals may raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and may be why more women develop Alzheimer’s than men.

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On a positive note, 71% of participants reported having been to a doctor in the past year, and 58% of them rated their overall health as generally good. Still, 56% reported not getting sufficient sleep, and 35% reported “almost always” or “often” awaking in physical pain. Further, 2 in 5 women said they had been diagnosed or treated for depression, anxiety, or insomnia.

“The fact that women experience high levels of depression, anxiety, and insomnia but report being unaware that these are often symptoms of menopause means women may be going to the doctor, but not necessarily having the right conversations,” Shriver said in a press release.

“The survey results are both a red flag about the state of women’s health, but also an exciting opportunity to redirect the way that both healthcare providers and women think, talk, and act on issues involving women’s health — at every age and every stage of a woman’s health span. Women want the information and it’s incumbent on us all to get it to them.”

Among respondents who described their mental health as poor, 33% blamed depression and 30% cited anxiety. Depression and other chronic conditions including hypertension, obesity, and diabetes are linked to Alzheimer’s. Moreover, just 12% of survey participants knew of a potential connection between risk for the progressive neurodegenerative disease and estrogen loss.

Research suggests that 40% of Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented through proper diet and exercise. The survey found that, when made aware of that possible connection, respondents were highly motivated to prioritize positive lifestyle changes. For example, 82% said they would stay mentally/intellectually active, 71% would maintain a healthy weight,  70% would stay socially active, and 67% would manage stress levels.

“We know that women’s unique biology and experiences over the course of their lifetime do play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and this survey illustrates the need to inform women of this link and empower them to start having conversations with their providers now so they can prioritize their brain health and improve overall health outcomes,” said Ridgeway.

“Cleveland Clinic officially partnered with WAM in February to do that through research, education, and advocacy. This is another reminder of the importance of our work together as WAM at Cleveland Clinic,” Ridgeway added.