Alzheimer's disease is characterized by gradual memory loss due to shrinkage of hippocampal region of the brain associated with memory.
Physicians use verbal memory tests to diagnose cognitive impairment, but women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's but seemingly less likely to have this form of mild cognitive impairment than men.
‘Women have better verbal memory skills than men throughout life which may act as a barrier to early diagnosis of dementia in women with mild cognitive impairment.
The study conducted by Dr. Erin E. Sundermann and her colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that the progression of Alzheimer's may vary between gender because women had better verbal memory even though men and women had the same level of brain deterioration.
Researchers looked at the MRI scans of 1,308 elderly participants from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative alongside their performance on a variety of tests that measured cognitive ability. They found that women who had mild cognitive impairment had better verbal memory than men with the condition. But the hippocampal atrophy was found to be similar among both men and women.
"One way to interpret the results is that because women have better verbal memory skills than men throughout life, women have a buffer of protection against loss of verbal memory before the effects of Alzheimer's disease kick in," said Sundermann.
The authors also speculate that women with mild cognitive impairment may not be diagnosed with dementia as they have a better verbal memory. Therefore, they suggest the need to figure out whether women are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment at later stages of the disease than men because of this advantage.
"Because verbal memory tests are used to diagnose people with Alzheimer's disease and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, these tests may fail to detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease in women until they are further along in the disease," explained Sundermann.