MONDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Alzheimer's disease may look
and act differently in men and women, new research suggests.
An emerging field known as gender-specific medicine has shown
pronounced differences among the sexes in terms of heart disease
and other conditions. These latest findings -- if confirmed by
further research -- may have significant implications for
diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's among the sexes.
When people develop Alzheimer's disease, their brains atrophy or
shrink. In the study of 109 people with newly diagnosed
Alzheimer's, brain scans showed that this atrophy happens earlier
in women than men. Women also lost more gray matter in their brains
in the year before their diagnosis. However, men seemed to have
more problems with their thinking ability when diagnosed with
Alzheimer's than their female counterparts did. What's more, men
and women lost gray matter in different areas of their brain.
"It is commonly known that loss of volume in hippocampus
coincides with cognitive decline, but this is more true in males
than females," said study author Dr. Maria Vittoria Spampinato, an
associate professor of radiology at the Medical University of South
The hippocampus is the part of the brain tasked with memory
formation, organization and storage.
"The next step is to integrate this information on brain volume
loss with other markers of Alzheimer's disease to understand if
gender differences exist with other modalities or just brain volume
alone," Spampinato said.
The study was presented Sunday at the Radiological Society of
North America annual meeting, in Chicago.
Dr. Clinton Wright, scientific director of Evelyn F. McKnight
Brain Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine, said it's too soon to draw any conclusions about gender
differences in Alzheimer's disease.
"Additional information would need to be provided to know if the
findings are attributable to sex differences or other factors,"
Wright said. "In particular, it is not clear if the authors
adjusted for age. If women were older they might have had greater
volume losses over the study period."
The finding that women had greater brain volume losses while men
had worse mental function at the time of Alzheimer's diagnosis is
also hard to explain, Wright said: "One would expect greater
atrophy in those with worse cognition unless additional factors
such as vascular damage explained these differences."
In a related presentation Monday, researchers from University of
California, Los Angeles, reported that leading an active lifestyle
may help halt brain aging and preserve gray matter volume even
among people who already have evidence of dementia.
The study included 876 adults with an average age of 78.
Individuals' mental function ranged from normal to Alzheimer's
dementia. Researchers used MRI brain scans and a technique called
voxel-based morphometry to see how physical activity affects gray
matter volume. This technique allows a computer to analyze a brain
scan and build a mathematical model that helps researchers
understand the relationship between active lifestyle and gray
Study participants who burned more calories via recreational
sports, gardening and yard work, bicycling, dancing and riding an
exercise cycle lost less gray matter in key areas of their brains.
This was true even among those with evidence of mental decline. The
finding held even after the team controlled for other factors known
to influence brain volume including head size, mental impairment,
gender, body weight, education and white matter disease.
Exercise likely improves blood flow to the brain, and
strengthens the connections between brain cells, the study authors
Because these studies were presented at a medical meeting, the
data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Learn more about Alzheimer's disease risk factors at the