Harder diagnosis in men?

From our Autumn 2016 Care and cure magazine - research challenges the idea that dementia is more common in women.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Florida presented data at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference showing that men with Alzheimer's may be more likely to be diagnosed incorrectly with something else than women. This might explain why the disease has appeared to be more common in women.

The researchers looked at brain tissue stored in the Florida brain bank to find people who had died with Alzheimer's disease. By looking at clinical records as well, the researchers could see what symptoms the people had experienced when they were alive. Men were found to experience more unusual symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as problems with speech or movement. In contrast, women were more likely to experience problems with their memory.

One of the first areas of the brain to be damaged in Alzheimer's disease is the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre. In this study, the hippocampus was more often spared from damage in the brains of men, potentially explaining the differences in the symptoms they experience.

Differences in the age of onset of Alzheimer's were also observed. Where the disease had previously been diagnosed correctly, men were more likely to be diagnosed in their 60s, whereas women were diagnosed more often in their 70s and later.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer's Society, said, 'Alzheimer's was first identified in a woman in the early 1900s but these results suggest there are important differences in how the disease affects men and women. More research is needed to understand how much misdiagnosis in men contributes to the observation that nearly two-thirds of people living with dementia in the UK are women.'

Find out more about how different risk factors can affect your chance of getting dementia.