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Women’s Alzheimer’s test needed as superior verbal skills mask onset of the disease

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/23/womens-alzheimers-test-needed-superior-verbal-skills-masks-onset/

By Henry Bodkin

An Alzheimer’s test specifically for women should be developed after a new study found superior female verbal skills disguise the onset of the disease, scientists have said.

Research in the US revealed doctors are less likely to diagnose Alzheimer’s in women than in men.

The imbalance means that female patients appear to deteriorate more quickly following diagnosis, when in fact they have already been suffering for some time.

Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s, making up 65 per cent of patients in the UK.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago said their study shows sex-specific tests should be developed.

Currently verbal and memory tests are an important tool for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

These can involve asking the patients to remember the name of a common object and repeat it a few minutes later, as well as asking them to draw the numbers on the face of a clock and a specified time.

However, women in general typically score better in verbal tests, and the new research indicates they hang on to this ability even while dementia is taking hold.

Presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the trial of around 1,300 patients of both sexes showed that women scored better than men while blood tests showed the disease was at a moderate and low stage, but lost their advantage once it became more severe.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s early can give patients the chance to undergo treatments capable of slowing down progression or even temporarily improving symptoms.

Dr Pauline Maki, who led the research said: “These findings may help to explain why women show a more rapid decline across a wide range of cognitive abilities after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“While female advantage may be functionally beneficial, it could mask early stages of Alzheimer’s, resulting in a more severe burden of disease at the time of diagnosis, with more rapid derioration thereafter.”

At the same conference evidence was also presented suggesting that multiple childbirth can help protect women from Alzheimer’s in later life.

Analysis of nearly 15,000 women found those who had given birth to three or more children had a 12 per cent lower risk of dementia compared to women with one child.