Need to develop separate tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s in women

Need to develop separate tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s in women

Alzheimer’s is the cleverest thief because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need to remember what’s been stolen.

– Jarod Kintz

An estimated 5.1 million Americans are reeling from the burden of a disorder that destroys the mind. Identified as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as the disorder develops, it distorts the cognitive functioning and impairs the mind of the victim. Gradually, all details, including names, dates, places and relationships, fade into oblivion. Ironically, the devastating disease that ranks sixth among the leading causes of death in the United States is untreatable.

The necessary test

A recent study, titled “Better verbal memory in women than men in MCI despite similar levels of hippocampal atrophy,” to understand the manifestations exhibited during the early stages of the disorder pointed out that at the onset of the disease, women were better at remembering words than men.

The researchers analyzed people who had participated in the Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Of the total number of respondents, 235 participants were afflicted with AD, 694 showed symptoms of moderate cognitive deterioration, including problems with memory, and 379 were devoid of any thinking or memory difficulties.

The verbal memory and the size of the hippocampal area of the brain of both men and women were compared and it was observed that women fared better than men on the tests. Explaining the possible reasons for women faring better in verbal memory tests than men, researcher Dr. Erin E. Sundermann of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said, “One way to interpret the results is that because women have better verbal memory skills than men throughout life, women have a buffer of protection against loss of verbal memory before the effects of Alzheimer’s disease kick in.”

However, the results were limited to the extent of minimal to moderate shrinking of the hippocampus in both men and women. In instances involving high levels of shrinkage, no difference was observed in the scores of all participants, irrespective of sex. Doctors usually resort to using verbal memory tests to detect indications of AD in their patients, but suggest that these tests may not be able to diagnose signs of mild cognitive impairment in women.

As a result of a greater waiting period involved in proper diagnosis of the disorder, treatment of the disease is meted out at later stages where there is diminished chance of recuperation from the disease. The study, published in the journal Neurology of the American Academy of Neurology, highlights the need for individualized tests or a different memory test for women, who have a heightened likelihood of being affected with AD.

Significance of the study

The common method of using memory tests to diagnose the presence of AD in men may not hold true for women and may result in delay in detecting the onset of the disorder and consequent aggravation of the disorder in women. The findings call for further tests to be conducted on women to help curb the development of the disorder in them. The observations made during the study also revealed greater evidence of the shrinkage of hippocampus in women which points out to the probability of women being more at the receiving end of the disorder than men.

Stressing on the importance of the research, Dr. Mary Sano, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said, “At a public policy level, the potential health care cost for under-detection or delayed diagnosis of women with Alzheimer’s disease or its early stages is staggering and should motivate funding in this area.”

Path to recovery

People suffering from AD need relentless care and patience. There is an inherent need to be alert of the symptoms of the disease to arrest the development of the disease at an early stage. If you or your loved one is battling with any mental illness, including AD or dementia, the Sovereign Mental Health Services is willing to help. Chat online with one of our experts today or call at the 24/7 helpline number 866-954-0529 for further information.

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