Researchers from the University of Alberta have found that two crucial risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease have substantially different effects on men and women.
Women are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at a higher rate than men. One explanation for this is that women live longer than men, but other neurological and hormonal changes in midlife also play a role.
However, a recent study has highlighted two key risk factors – a particular gene and vascular health – that affect men more than women. According to Roger Dixon, one of the co-authors, the discovery that these two risk variables do not have the same impact on women emphasizes the need to consider gender differences when diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s.
What are the research findings
In the large-scale investigation, the researchers employed neuroinformatics to examine data from 623 older persons over 44 years of their lives, aged 53 to 97, taken from the Victoria Longitudinal Study database.
The researchers examined two known Alzheimer’s risk factors: the bridging integrator 1 (BIN1) gene and vascular health, determined by pulse pressure. They then studied episodic memory impairment, a known early sign, in men and women. Episodic memory is our recollection of everyday events, such as what we had for breakfast the day before.
The study exhibited the following findings:
- Poor vascular health (high pulse pressure) negatively impacted memory deterioration for everyone.
- Even good pulse pressure did not protect people with BIN1 genetic risk from memory loss.
- Males with BIN1 genetic risk along with poor vascular health had much steeper slopes, indicating a significant deterioration in memory, whereas females did not.
Since Alzheimer’s has an “insidious onset”, according to Dixon, they looked at data worth 44 years. That means it begins long before we can detect it. There are brain changes that are early indicators of the disease, not just five years before diagnosis but 10, 15, and 20 years before diagnosis.
Dixon further explained that many studies are attempting to identify those who are most at risk for Alzheimer’s long before they develop it because once they do, there is nothing we can do except mitigate some of the symptoms.
According to Dixon, the fact that everyone develops some risk factors as they get older and that various risk factors can result in Alzheimer’s is another complicating element. Therefore, no one risk factor will reveal to researchers whether a person will acquire it; instead, it is a combination that develops through time. However, they can track and pinpoint who is most vulnerable if they have the correct data.
Because numerous paths contribute to Alzheimer’s, the researchers looked at both genetic risk and vascular health separately and simultaneously.
Some pathways point in Alzheimer’s direction, while others point away from the disease. Dixon further stated that finding subtypes as determined by these risk variables is what they are attempting to achieve and that they are trying to find out which subtypes are most likely to benefit from which form of risk intervention or risk reduction intervention.
- Heal, M., McFall, G.P., Vergote, D., Jhamandas, J.H., Westaway, D. and Dixon, R.A., 2022. Bridging Integrator 1 (BIN1, rs6733839) and Sex Are Moderators of Vascular Health Predictions of Memory Aging Trajectories. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, (Preprint), pp.1-17. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad220334.
- Key Alzheimer’s Risk Factors Affect Men More Than Women. Neurosecience. https://neurosciencenews.com/male-alzheimers-risk-22208/. Published online: 20th Jan, 2023. Accessed: 2nd Feb, 2023.
- Men more than women affected by key Alzheimer’s risk factors: U of A study. Edmonton Journal. https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/men-more-than-women-affected-by-key-alzheimers-risk-factors-u-of-a-sudy. Published online: 29th January, 2023. Accessed: 2nd Feb, 2023.