January 26, 2012
Elderly Men Experience More Memory Loss Than Women
According to a recent study, men appear to be more likely to develop symptoms of mild dementia than women, while women remain at a higher risk for more severe forms of degenerative memory loss.
Experts say that the more moderate form of memory loss known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) lies somewhere in the spectrum between normal brain aging and full-fledged dementia.
And given that numerous previous studies have consistently found aging women to be at a higher risk of developing dementia than men, the new study published this week in the journal Neurology came as something of a surprise to researchers in the field.
A team of researchers at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota studied the mental health of some 1,500 subjects between the ages of 70 and 89 for three years and found that 5.7 percent of the women developed MCI compared to 7.2 percent of the men.
Researchers say that the gender differential remained even after accounting for factors like age, marital status and education which are known to skew results.
Rosebud Roberts, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study, says that the relationship between MCI and full-fledged dementia in women is still unclear.
“Women may develop risk factors for MCI at a later age, but the effects may be more severe when they occur,” said Roberts.
Moreover, she added, researchers still aren´t sure whether women simply progress more rapidly through MCI straight to dementia or if the MCI phase in women simply isn´t as pronounced–and thus not as frequently diagnosed–as in men.
Whatever the case may be, the team says that scientists will need to begin focusing their research efforts on trying to understand why aging men are able to stave off more advanced forms of mental illness. Eventually they hope that this may lead to a cure for halting the advance of dementia in the elderly.
In a commentary on the study, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood of Dalhousie University in Canada wrote that: “For some men, MCI represents incomplete disease expression; alternately, they resist dementia development more.”
He added that: “MCI in men could lend some insight into what prevented dementia might look like.”
As Professor Derek Hill of University College London has observed, the study also highlights the intricate complexity of age-related mental disorders, both in terms of the rate at which they develop as well as how they are expressed.
“This study shows that MCI is a very complicated mix of factors, and that different types of MCI arise and progress quite differently,” said Hill, who also sees in the study´s unexpected findings the potential for developing preemptive treatments for dementia.
And in light of current demographic trends, Dr. Roberts pointed out, there is a sense of urgency in the research community to find such possible cures as quickly as possible.
“Since MCI is a risk factor for dementia, and large numbers of the baby boomer generation are reaching this age, we must prevent or reduce the risk of MCI, or the increased development of dementia will have a tremendous impact on the cost of health care in elderly persons,” explained Roberts.
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