Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

Alzheimer's In Women

Elderly Woman Stretching

Most people know something about Alzheimer's disease or know of someone with the disorder. However, what people do not know is that Alzheimer's involves people of all colors, ethnicities, cultures and race- and most families are ill prepared to deal with the disorder. Alzheimer's disease usually tends to occur after the age of 65 and then the numbers of affected people increase rapidly.

It has always been assumed that Alzheimer's disease predominantly affects men but the statistics now show that this is not true. Numerous recent reports indicate that women are now at the epicenter of the Alzheimer epidemic. Close to 65 percent of people with Alzheimer's are women. The other important point is that more than 60% of caregivers for individuals with Alzheimer's disease are women. This is going to severely impact supportive care for all individuals with Alzheimer disease. The situation is going to be a lot worse in a household where a male has Alzheimer's and later his caregiver-the female, also develops the same disorder. How are we going to manage this? The treatment of Alzheimer's disease is not ideal and the drugs often do not work. Even when they work, they are likely to cause adverse reactions which are sometimes even worse than the dementia itself.

In North America alone, it is believed that close to ten million individuals either have Alzheimer's disease or are caring for someone with the disease. Some of these women provide 24/7 hour care and more than thirty percent claim that they have no choice in becoming a caregiver.

The economic and social impact of Alzheimer's disease is huge and financially accounts for at least $300 billion each year in North America alone. Many of these caregivers also work part time to support the family, frequently take time off work to provide care or take the affected individual to the healthcare provider. Yet these women get very little support from the government or any local agency. Stress and burn out in these women caregivers is common for this reason. Why the disease has started to affect women remains a mystery. Women with Alzheimer disease tend to show a faster decline in mental health compared to men and it is speculated that perhaps genes and estrogen may be playing a role.

With close to 78 million baby boomers now moving into retirement age, there is going to be a significant increase in number of new patients with Alzheimer's disease. Since women tend to live longer than men, it is inevitable that the majority of patients in the 80s will be women. Continued care for this population is going to cost everyone a lot of money. Today, the average yearly cost of looking after a patient with Alzheimer's disease is about $60,000 and the majority of the costs are borne by the family.

The scientific community is aggressively trying to develop methods of preventing or treating Alzheimer's disease, but so far progress has been slow. Compared to advances in other disorders like high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis, Alzheimer disease is a complex disorder of aging which is poorly understood. For so long there was a general lack of awareness of disorder and now suddenly it is realized that the disorder has already affected millions of elderly people. There has been a sudden interest in developing a cure. Unfortunately, for the majority of people with Alzheimer's disease the only destination is a nursing home because there is nothing that can stop the progression of the disease.