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Alzheimer's Affects Women's Brains "More Severely And More Widely"

Researchers aren't sure why Alzheimer's impairs women so intensely, but if they can find out, it could be key to understanding the disease.

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In an attempt to better understand how Alzheimer's affects the mind, researchers are paying attention to how the disease presents itself differently in men and women. In women, they've found, cognitive abilities worsen "more severely and more widely."

Researchers at the University of Hartfordshire performed a meta-study, using data from 15 previous studies, to compare how men and women are affected differently by Alzheimer's. They examined the cognitive abilities of 828 men and 1,238 women in areas like semantics and memory.

By and large, women suffered greater cognitive losses. In all the areas tested, women had a "consistent and significant deficit." They tended to experience cognitive losses more quickly and also more severely. Women showed the greatest decline in the verbal category.

The findings are particularly interesting because in the majority of studies examining cognitive abilities in the "normal" population (i.e. those not affected by Alzheimer's), women have had better cognitive abilities than men. The researchers write that there is "something specific about AD neuropathology that disadvantages females." It's unclear why this happens, but researchers suggest it could have something to do with differences in hormone levels.

There is some encouraging news to come out of this: by isolating differences in how the disease affects different people, researchers can begin to better understand how Alzheimer's functions — and work towards a cure. The researchers wrote that they hoped future studies will try to examine how some of the differences in men and women — like hormones — affect the disease.

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