Women’s Elevated Alzheimer’s Risk

November 13, 2020

Alzheimer’s is a disease that impacts the brain and represents between 60 to 80% of dementia cases. Although aging is Alzheimer’s greatest significant risk factor, research shows the disease disproportionately affects women. With support from the UCI Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) and the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), Neurobiology and Behavior Assistant Professor Elizabeth Chrastil hopes to identify early behavioral and structural markers of Alzheimer’s that are sensitive to sex differences.

More than five million people are living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. The disease primarily affects people over the age of 65, with women having a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men. This discrepancy between the sexes has prompted a push to investigate why Alzheimer’s is more likely to affect women. The question why is the catalyst that led to the partnership between UCI MIND and WAM.

The latest beneficiary of the UCI MIND-WAM partnership is Assistant Professor Elizabeth Chrastil. Professor Chrastil has received funding to develop methods to assess differences between the sexes in behavior and brain structure sensitive to perturbation by Alzheimer’s. She will focus her efforts to determine whether and how spatial navigational ability, which is an early marker for dementia, changes across a lifespan. In particular, she will examine menopause, and whether there are structural changes in the brain associated with early aging and the menopausal transition. Data obtained from the study could help fill a significant knowledge gap in our understanding of the morphological and behavioral changes in the male and female brains during aging, and ultimately provide insights into women’s brain health.