Women suffering from Alzheimer’s deteriorate faster than men – even when both are apparently at the same stage of the disease, warn researchers.
A study found women sufferers show greater loss of their mental faculties than men. The findings suggest men’s brains are better at coping with the ravages of the disease.
The stage of progression of Alzheimer’s is measured using general tests, such as those based on behaviour.
More detailed tests – such as verbal skills tests – on sufferers who were at an apparently equal stage of the disease suggested men have an advantage in coping with its effects.
Men with Alzheimer’s consistently outperformed women sufferers in detailed tests of memory and even verbal ability – in which, among healthy people, women normally have the advantage.
A review of data from 15 studies by researchers from the University of Hertfordshire shows for the first time that men might resist the progression of dementia more than women.
The analysis of studies involving 828 men and 1,238 women discovered that men with Alzheimer’s consistently and significantly outperformed women with the disease across five cognitive areas examined in detailed tests.
These included tests of episodic memory, where people recall events from the past, and semantic memory involving factual information.
But a ‘striking’ finding was the verbal skills of women with Alzheimer’s are worse compared with men who appear to be at the same disease stage.
Factors such as age and education level did not significantly predict the advantage that male sufferers had.
The analysis, led by Professor Keith Laws, was published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.
The professor of psychology said: ‘Unlike mental decline associated with normal aging, something about Alzheimer’s specifically disadvantages women.’
There could be a hormonal explanation, he said, because women lose oestrogen supplies after the menopause which play a key role in the brain.
He said: ‘Men’s cognitive reserve appears to compensate for the disease process. Other research using scans shows men can have brains that are badly damaged yet their skills are not as impaired as they should be.
‘For whatever reason, and it’s not about greater intellect, men are better able to stave off the effects for longer.’
Professor Laws added: ‘We were astonished to find so little work had been done in this area.’
About 820,000 Britons are affected by dementia, with symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and mood changes, with Alzheimer’s the most common cause.