Women who develop slight memory deficits and mental decline slide faster toward dementia than men, according to a new study presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington.
Researchers were quick to note that the study’s findings aren’t reflective of a difference in brain chemistry between genders and have no medical implications just yet. “All we can say at this point is that there appears to be a faster trajectory for women than men” in the direction of dementia, said P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences and lead author of the study.
The study used cognitive test scores from 398 participants of both genders who were primarily in their 70s. After controlling for outside variables like education and genetics, the researchers found that women’s test scores fell by an average of two points per year, compared to just one point for men. This wasn’t the only negative effect for women: their standard of life—how they performed at home, work, and with family—also fell faster than men.
A vast majority—nearly two-thirds of the five million Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease—are women, which scientists note can be traced to the fact that women live longer, but the reasons for their decline have remained indeterminate.