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Why men have worse memories than women

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New study suggests there's a reason why men are more forgetful than women.

Men forgetting things, like their wife’s birthday or wedding anniversary, has been the subject of countless jokes, but a new study reveals a possible explanation for why men tend to be more forgetful than their female counterparts, no matter how old they are.

For the study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology asked 37,405 male and female participants nine questions about their memory, such as whether their memory had changed since they were younger, and whether they had any trouble remembering dates or events from a few days to a few years ago.

What the researchers found was that roughly 50 percent of the participants had memory problems, but 8 out of 10 of the men reported having the most problems remembering things – and age didn’t matter. The men in the study were just as forgetful whether they were 30 years old or 60.

The findings, published in in the journal BMC Psychology, noted that memory problems generally increase with age, but in all age groups, men reported more memory problems than women.

Professor Jostein Holmen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology led the study, and he was surprised to discover that men were more forgetful than women, regardless of age, a finding that has never been documented before this study.

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Saying that the findings were “unambiguous”, Prof. Holmen and his research team cited various theories that may explain why men and women have differences in memory.

One possibility may be that men are at greater risk for having cardiovascular disease, as well as a high body mass index (BMI) and hypertension (high blood pressure). As a result, men may be more susceptible to a degeneration of their cognitive skills, including memory loss, which is common in those who have cardiovascular-related health problems.

However, the researchers point out that their study did not find any conclusive evidence to support such a theory, so why men are more forgetful than women remains unknown.

In the meantime, the research team plans to conduct additional studies to find out if younger people who report memory problems could be at greater risk for developing dementia down the road.

According to the researchers, numerous other studies suggest that memory problems at a younger age may be a precursor to worse memory problems in the future and eventual dementia. In this regard, the study authors report that early detection of cognitive impairment in younger adults could be an important tool for helping manage any further cognitive decline in the future.

SOURCE: Gender differences in subjective memory impairment in a general population: the HUNT study, Norway, doi:10.1186/2050-7283-1-19, Jostein Holmen, Ellen Melbye Langballe, Kristian Midthjell, Turid Lingaas Holmen, Arvid Fikseaunet, Ingvild Saltvedt, Kristian Tambs, published in BMC Psychology, 25 October 2013.