Alzheimer’s disease impacts women disparately, so let’s empower them to get involved in the fight against the disease

Throughout recent history, women have collectively implemented positive change on a host of different issues. From the fight against breast cancer to preventing drunk driving, women have participated in national movements that have saved countless lives. Now, another crucial issue requires our attention: Alzheimer’s disease.

Why is this so important for women? Because we are among the most disproportionately affected.

While Alzheimer’s disease affects people of all genders, races and ethnicities, women are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just as disturbing as this statistic is the fact that many women are unaware of it. A Cleveland Clinic survey found that 82% of women didn’t know they were at higher risk, even though women account for about two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases in the United States. And 73% haven’t discussed their brain health with their doctor, though an almost equal percentage said they’ve seen a doctor in the past year.

The disparate impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women is not just limited to those living with the disease. The CDC estimates that women make up two-thirds of all family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.

Speaking from the personal experience of caring for my mother and grandmother when they were each living with Alzheimer’s disease, being an Alzheimer’s caregiver is truly a labor of love. It can also be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, which can increase a caregiver’s risk of developing health complications themselves.

The figures, combined with the CDC’s projection that the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease will increase significantly in the coming years – from about 6 million today to 14 million by 2060 – underscore why we as women need to be actively involved in this struggle.

Education and communication are two of the best ways to further empower women to deal with this issue. Not just by highlighting the statistics, but by teaching them the steps they can and should take, such as making lifestyle choices to reduce their risk (good diet, regular exercise and social activity, and good sleep are part of it), regular memory screenings and referrals to caregiver support services.

This is a high priority issue for people in the Chicago area, where I live, and for those elsewhere in Illinois. Illinois has more than 230,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, making it one of the states with the highest number of people affected. This number is expected to increase by more than 18% over the next few years to reach 260,000.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (of which I am a board member) would like to urge all women affected by this disease to become informed and empowered .

The Cleveland Clinic survey found that more than half of women surveyed said they care about others, with 43% saying they focus on other people’s health rather than their own. Single mothers report the lowest quality of sleep and represent the highest percentage of women who rate their health as poor or fair (69%).

While providing care to loved ones is very important, you cannot provide the best possible care if you are not proactive in maintaining your own health. Many health factors affecting women can be adjusted if women are informed. In fact, the majority of women surveyed said they would take action if told – they would stay mentally active, maintain a healthy weight, sleep better and exercise regularly. Science now suggests that 40% of Alzheimer’s disease cases could be prevented with these healthy lifestyle changes.

Many of us have already been affected by this growing public health crisis. Many more will be in the years to come. As we search for a cure, let’s collectively commit to doing what we can today to address this critical issue for women’s health.

Luisa Echevarria is a board member of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and a former family caregiver for Alzheimer’s disease. She is also the former director of community empowerment for Univision Communications Inc. and has won Emmy awards for public service campaigns and news production.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and editorials. See our guidelines.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: