Alzheimer’s disease progresses faster in women, study says

LUND, Sweden — Alzheimer’s disease is infamous for its tendency to slowly develop over years and years. While that may be the case overall, a new study finds Alzheimer’s tends to progress faster in women than men. Researchers from Lund University report tau proteins, long associated with the disease, accumulate at higher rates in female brains.

Two proteins, tau and beta-amyloid, combine and accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. However, this process falters when the body doesn’t properly dispose of beta-amyloid. As far as scientists can tell, this stage develops at about the same rate in both men and women. In other words, early Alzheimer’s patients of both genders show about the same levels of beta-amyloid. In this early stage, patients usually don’t display outward signs of dementia.

Women are significantly more susceptible to buildups in the brain

As time goes by, though, memory issues are often the first problems to arise. When this starts, it’s a sign that tau proteins have begun to clump up in the brain, disrupting neurons. Women with Alzheimer’s generally experience greater memory loss than men dealing with dementia. Now, this new research shows women experience a “higher rate of tau accumulation.”

“Tau accumulation rates vary greatly between individuals of the same sex, but in the temporal lobe, which is affected in Alzheimer’s disease, we found a 75% higher accumulation rate in women as a group compared to men,” explains first study author Ruben Smith in a university release.

The findings that women see more tau buildup than men held up even after study authors considered factors like age and pre-existing tau levels. In all, the team examined 209 women and 210 men during this project.

“The next step would be to examine why this accumulation is faster in women,” adds co-researcher Sebastian Palmqvist.

“Our study strongly indicates that the faster spread of tau makes women more prone to develop dementia because of Alzheimer’s pathology compared to men. Future experimental studies will be important to understand the reasons behind this,” concludes Professor Oskar Hansson.

The study appears in the journal Brain.