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Men may have higher risk of memory loss than women

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
memory loss, dementia, gender difference, education, seility

Women typically are more prone to dementia as they age; however, a new study has reported that men are at higher risk for memory loss in their senior years than women. The study was published online on January 25 in the journal Neurology by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers conducted a prospective study of Olmsted County, MN residents aged 70–89. They were initially evaluated in October 2004 and then every 15 months; the evaluations included the Clinical Dementia Rating scale, a neurologic evaluation, and neuropsychological testing. A panel of examiners blinded (unaware) to previous diagnoses reviewed data at each evaluation to assess the seniors’ cognitive status.

The researchers found that among 1,450 seniors who were cognitively normal at baseline, 296 developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The investigators made separate evaluations of amnesic (memory loss) MCI (aMCI) and non-amnesic MCI (naMCI). The age- and sex-standardized incidence rate of MCI was 63.6 (per 1,000 person-years) overall. It was higher in men (72.4) than women (57.3); the incidence for aMCI was higher than naMCI (37.7 vs. 14.7). The incidence rate of aMCI was higher for men (43.9) than women (33.3), and for subjects with only a high school education or less (42.6) than those with higher education (32.5). The risk of naMCI was also higher for men (20.0) than women (10.9) and for subjects with only a high school education or less (20.3) than those with more education (10.2).

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The authors concluded that a substantial number of seniors develop MCI. The added that because of significant gender differences exist in regard to MCI as well as between the two subtypes of MCI, risk factors for MCI should be investigated separately for aMCI and naMCI, and in men and women. They also noted that the disparity in MCI cases between the genders was greater in those aged 70 – 74; however, in the older age groups, aged 85 – 89, the disparity in MCI cases was practically non-existent.

Dr. R.O. Roberts, lead author of the study and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, noted, “Our study is important because a lot of studies at the time usually would go back through previously collected MCI criteria to use as data for the diagnosis… Our study was different in the sense that we were able to use criteria for the diagnosis of MCI at the time we saw them and not look back and retrospectively apply the diagnosis.”

Take Home Message:
Mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to dementia. While individuals with MCI can function fairly well in a familiar environment, those with full-blown dementia cannot. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies to mental function as well as physical fitness. It is import to exercise one’s brain on a daily basis. Any activity that requires thinking (i.e., working a crossword puzzle) can improve mental fitness. Abuse of alcohol and other substances can result in impaired mental function.

Reference: Neurology