It’s a very scary moment an older family member struggles to remember where they are or what they are doing. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common types of dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Women are at a greater risk for the disease than men are, primarily because they live longer and the disease mainly affects those over age 65.
First Alzheimer’s Patient
The first case of Alzheimer’s, named for the doctor who discovered it, was diagnosed in 1906. The first patient was a woman who had struggled with a loss of memory, difficulty with language and unusual behavior, according to the National Institute on Aging. After she passed on, Dr. Alzheimer performed an autopsy on her brain. He discovered tangled fibers, known as neurofibrillary tangles, and clumps, known as amyloid plaques, on her brain.
The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are the same for both men and women. Memory loss or confusion is often the first sign. A person in the early stages of the disease may repeat the same thing over and over, as if she hadn’t said it before. She may also put items back in unusual spots, such as her glasses in the refrigerator, and forget where she put them. As the disease progresses, she may forget family members, may forget what common objects are called and may struggle to come up with the appropriate words, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms include mood swings, a lack of trust, anxiety and stubbornness.
Risks for Women
About two-thirds of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are women, according to a letter to the Florida Times Union from Kay Redington, the CEO of Alzheimer’s Association Central. Women with depression are more likely to face cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s later in life, according to an article in Science Daily. For a time it was thought that high cholesterol and heart problems increased a woman’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s. A 2010 study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine suggests that high cholesterol in the middle of a woman’s life does not have an impact on her risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Keeping Alzheimer’s at Bay
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent Alzheimer’s, you can take several steps to lower your risk of getting the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Stay active both physically and mentally throughout your life. Find activities that work your brain, such as doing a crossword puzzle or playing a problem-solving game. Social activities such as a date with a friend or two can also help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s, as can eating a healthy diet and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and excess drinking.
As of 2010, there is no single pill that will treat Alzheimer’s disease or prevent the symptoms from worsening over time. Certain drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine can help treat mild cases of the disease, as they boost neurotransmitters in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Later stages of the disease may be treated with memantine. In most cases, these medications are only effective for a few years, according to the National Institute on Aging.