Most women unaware they’re at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease

A survey by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at Cleveland Clinic found women aren’t talking to doctors about possible risk factors.

Women account for the majority of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, but most women don’t understand they are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

That’s a troubling takeaway of a survey by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at Cleveland Clinic.

More than four out of five women (82%) said they were unaware that women had a greater likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the study found.

Roughly two-thirds of all Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. When a woman is 65 years old, she has an estimated one-in-five chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the association says.

The survey also found that nearly three-quarters of women (73%) said they have not talked about their cognitive health with their healthcare providers. And 62% of women haven’t talked to their doctors about menopause or perimenopause, the transitional phase to menopause. Researchers said those conversations are vital, since Alzheimer’s disease is more common in women after menopause.

Maria Shriver, founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and strategic partner for women's health and Alzheimer's at Cleveland Clinic, will be presenting the findings today at the Aspen Ideas: Health Festival. She will discuss the findings with Beri Ridgeway, Cleveland Clinic's chief of staff.

On the upside, most women (71%) said they have seen a doctor in the past year, and 58% of women say they are in good health. Still, more than half (56%) said they aren’t getting enough sleep and more than one-third (35%) said they often or always wake up some physical pain.

Around 40% of women said they have received treatment or a diagnosis for depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Shriver said in a statement that the findings of the survey are disturbing, but said it also points to ways to reach women and improve their health.

"The fact that women experience high levels of depression, anxiety and insomnia, but report being unaware that these are often symptoms of menopause means women may be going to the doctor, but not necessarily having the right conversations," Shriver said in the statement.

"The survey results are both a red flag about the state of women's health, but also an exciting opportunity to redirect the way that both healthcare providers and women think, talk and act on issues involving women's health—at every age and every stage of a woman's health span,” she added. “Women want the information and it's incumbent on us all to get it to them."

Only about one in nine women (12%) said they knew about a link between a loss of estrogen and a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at Cleveland Clinic is studying that link.

The survey also found that of those who reported they weren’t in good health, most said they were struggling with depression (33%) and anxiety (30%). The vast majority of women who said they weren’t in good health were single mothers (69%).

Ridgeway said women’s health and their own experiences can play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

"This survey illustrates the need to inform women of this link and empower them to start having conversations with their providers now so they can prioritize their brain health and improve overall health outcomes," she said in a statement.

Women will make positive steps to maintain or improve their health when they learn that lifestyle factors are linked to Alzheimer's, the survey found. Most said they would stay mentally and socially active and would work to maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity, low physical activity, depression and diabetes have all been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.