A new study has produced startling results: After the age of 45, almost half of women and over one-third of men will experience at least one of the following: dementia, Parkinson’s or a stroke.
The study, published in the journal Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, looked at 12,102 people between 1990 and 2016 to assess their lifetime risk of developing certain diseases. Everyone in the study was over 45. After 26 years of tracking the participants, researchers found that 263 were diagnosed with Parkinson’s, 1,285 had a stroke and 1,489 people developed dementia.
The researchers found that women were more likely to experience dementia, a stroke or Parkinson’s than men—48.2 percent of women experienced one of the three, compared to 36.3 percent of men. Women were also more likely to experience more than one of the diseases, with 2.9 percent of women developing both dementia and stroke, compared to 1.9 percent of men.
Men, on the other hand, were more likely to experience a stroke in their younger years. While men and women had almost the same lifetime risk of stroke at age 45—18.9 percent for men and 19 percent for women—men had an 8.4 percent risk of stroke before the age of 75 and women had a 5.8 percent risk.
Parkinson’s had the lowest lifetime risk at age 45, at just 3.3 percent for women and 3.6 percent for men.
The study results point out what dementia researchers have been realizing recently: Men and women have different risk factors for diseases like dementia, and research should reflect that. Dr. Marie Pasinski, M.D., told Being Patient that older women most at risk for dementia traditionally were not given the same opportunities to things like education, work and athletics—all things that have been shown to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“I think it’s really important to understand that women have more risk factors than men do for Alzheimer’s. There are a number of what we call modifiable lifestyle risk factors. These are things that we have control over and for women, this is especially important,” said Pasinski in an interview.
Study authors point to women’s longer life expectancies as a factor that may skew the numbers. The longer a person lives, the greater their risk for one of these three diseases.
But the study authors say that both women and men can take steps to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s; Studies point out that things like diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, smoking, cognitive activity and physical activity are all potentially modifiable risk factors that can lower your risk of dementia and heart disease by up to 70 percent.
“Risks are theoretically highly amendable by preventive interventions at the population level,” wrote the study authors. “These findings strengthen the call for focus on preventive interventions to reduce the burden of common neurological disease in the aging population.”