There are significant gender differences in age-related brain dysfunction, according to healthcare experts.

Guess who comes in second when the contest has only two players?

Women do!

Stop scowling, I’m only the messenger.

According to those in the know, i.e. PMC PubMed Central, women perform better on verbal tests (surprise!) and men perform better on tests of spatial ability. Sounds like we’re the same only different, as my husband likes to say, but then PMC drops the hammer. Aging women suffer from depression and Alzheimer’s disease more than men do.

Oh, now I have something else to worry about!

Let’s consider what we can DO to change the scenario a bit.  We all know that the brain, like the body, shrinks as we age. For men, this atrophy begins earlier than it does for women, but, when women’s brains start shrinking, it happens fast and in different parts of the brain than men experience.

According to PubMed: A study measuring glucose metabolism and using positron emission tomography (PET) and 18F-2-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose (FDG), showed that age-related decline in brain metabolism is asymmetrical in males, but symmetrical in females, and women have significant age-related decreases in hippocampal glucose metabolism, but men do not.

Medicalese translation:   PubMed is saying that gender differences in brain aging cause greater loss of cognitive function in women than in men.

Gender differences in how the brain ages cause more dementia in women.

Woman live longer and aging can cause dementia. Isn’t that the answer?

Not anymore, if you’ve been observing the trend. Today, older men are actually visiting doctors and being treated before a disease becomes terminal! Somehow, they’ve become Woke to survival, which may be due to the superior verbal abilities of their wives. As it is, they are catching up to us rapidly.

What are the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease? Risk factors include a positive family history, presence of Down’s syndrome, head injury, female sex, hypothyroidism, depression and the possession of the apolipoprotein E4 gene.

Within my health care experience, I have observed that any sort of mental illness, brain damage or developmental delay predisposes a person to dementia, particularly women. What contributes to that brain damage? Shrinkage of the brain, whether due to an injury, mental illness or hormonal deficiencies.

Yes, one controllable factor contributing to dementia often emerges in women’s studies: loss of hormonal influence on the brain, especially early menopause.

Hormonal deficiencies

I will raise my hand here! I can relate!

My menopause began at 40, with 16 (count them!) miserable hot flashes a day AND noticeable memory issues. For instance, I cruised to the store for butter and came home with multiple foodstuffs – but forgot the butter. Oh, and it happened often.

Was this cause for alarm? Come on! Everybody forgets items from the store. At least I wasn’t stashing my keys in the fridge.

Hormonal therapy

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias increases dramatically with age, rising to about 15% of the population by the age of 80. This has enormous ramifications for caregivers and healthcare.

U.S. News reported on a study concerning menopausal women and dementia. Quote: “This is not the first study on the impact of hormone therapies on neurodegenerative disease reduction,” reports senior author Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the University of Arizona Center for Innovation in Brain Science. “But what is important about this study is that it advances the use of precision hormone therapies in the prevention of neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s.”

The study found that women who had already received menopausal hormone therapy for six years or longer were 79% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and 77% less likely to develop any neurodegenerative disease over the term of follow-up.

79% less likely to develop a neurodegenerative disease  is a very significant percentage!

If you consider that my forgetfulness began when my body failed to make adequate estrogen, you can see the logic in this finding, without my providing any more boring statistics.

Have you noticed that, after menopause, everything shrinks? Without details on this unhappy factor, why wouldn’t the brain shrink, as well?

Estrogen replacement

The reason for shrinkage and brain fog is that lack of estrogen causes loss of synaptic and dendritic spine density in the hippocampus area of the brain. The CA1 region of the hippocampus is crucial to memory function and spatial and declarative learning and is damaged by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

I don’t like the idea of ovary-removal for anyone, but It has been shown that in rats following bilateral oophorectomy (both ovaries removed) there is a significant decrease in dendritic spine density in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells. The administration of estrogens caused growth of dendrites and this had a positive influence on the rats’ abilities to learn new tasks.

According to PubMed Central, “The neurochemical effects of estrogen may partially explain why depression occurs more often in women, and why Alzheimer’s disease and very late onset schizophrenia are more common in postmenopausal women, i.e. when levels of circulating estrogens are low.”

What?? Schizophrenia after menopause? Apparently so, and depression is no picnic, either.

 With the onset of menopause my sex drive needle dropped to 0, and my bones were thinning.

FINALLY, I decided to try HRT. It made a significant difference. Oh, not right away! My estrogen tank was running on empty, and like filling a swimming pool with a garden hose, it took some time. Today, my thinking is sharper with HRT, my bones are stronger and I have a sex life. My body responds with muscle instead of disappointment at the gym.  

The final word: Epidemiological studies have reported that the prevalence of dementias is significantly decreased in females on HRT, and that those women diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who were taking HRT had a milder disease than those who were not.

I’m all in!