Women typically score higher than men on tests of verbal memory, and so may not be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment as early as men are, even when they have the same levels of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes, such as the amount of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain or the amount of shrinkage in the hippocampus area of the brain
Using sex-specific scores on memory tests may change who gets diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 20%, with possibly more women and fewer men being diagnosed, according to a study published in the October 9, 2019, online issue of Neurology. Mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to dementia, is when people have problems with memory and thinking skills. The study involved 985 people from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative
- Using the typical scores based on averages across men and women, 26% of the women, were diagnosed with MCI. But, with the sex-specific scores, 10% (36%) more women were diagnosed with MCI.
- For men, 45% were considered to have MCI when typical scores were used. However, when using the sex-specific scores, 35% (10% fewer men) were diagnosed with the condition.
The brain changes were more advanced than normal in the women whose diagnosis changed from normal to MCI when using the sex-specific scores. But, in the men whose diagnosis changed from MCI to normal when using the sex-specific scores, their brain changes closely resembled healthy older adults.
Study author Erin E. Sundermann, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego said, “If women are inaccurately identified as having no problems with memory and thinking skills when they actually have mild cognitive impairment, then treatments are not being started and they and their families are not planning ahead for their care or their financial or legal situations. And for men who are inaccurately diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, they can be exposed to unneeded medications along with undue stress for them and their families.” (Excerpts from American Academy of Neurology)