Behind Every Great Woman is a Great Brain

March 27, 2019 - Jill Lesser and Brooks Kenny
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For the past 30 years, Americans have gathered around the month of March to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of women in this country. On March 8th, we celebrated International Women’s Day to recognize the powerful and uniting force of women across the globe. 

Unfortunately, a crisis is looming. The very women we’re celebrating this month and everyday are facing a public health crisis – and we have the power to make sure it’s not ignored.

We bet you didn’t know that a full two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women, and that one in six women aged 65 or older will develop Alzheimer’s (that’s twice the rate of breast cancer). We also bet you didn’t know that Alzheimer’s disease rivals the economic burden of smoking on this country’s healthcare system, costing approximately $170 billion dollars per year. While March is only 31 days, women will continue to face a crippling health epidemic every single day of the year well after we’ve said goodbye to Women’s History Month.

WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s, a network of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, understands this reality and the urgent need to drive awareness and empower women to change the paradigm on the greatest health imperative of our time: Eradicating Alzheimer’s disease and promoting life-long Brain Health. 

How are women going to do this?

As the Chief Medical Officers of their families, women have the power to lead the brain health movement. Women have already been change-makers for the key health issues of our time, from heart disease to breast cancer. By empowering women with the tools to lead, we can change the trajectory of brain health for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for future generations.

Brain health means making the most of your brain and reducing risks to it as you age. It’s important because – in the Alzheimer’s space, right now – there’s a pressing need to engage people earlier. We need to inform and empower people of all ages so they can reduce their risk throughout life, catch any signs of cognitive decline early, participate in research, and plan their care. 

Brain health broadens the fight against Alzheimer’s to include everyone. It’s the key to defeating stigma, increasing early detection, speeding up research – and ending this disease. It offers us hope – and points us to the actions we can all take.

Our research shows that women are ready to make positive change. In fact, more than 80 percent of women already believe we should be talking about brain health more. Women see brain health as a top health priority and want to learn, discuss, and do more to optimize brain health across the entire lifespan. By empowering women with the tools to lead, we can change the trajectory of brain health for ourselves, for our families and communities, and for future generations. 

Brain health belongs at the forefront of women’s health. Women are highly susceptible to comorbidities that can increase risk for cognitive decline, such as hypertension and heart disease. This is even more true for African American and Latina women, who are at an even higher risk. However, the latest science tells us that people can build cognitive resilience by making key lifestyle changes, including participating in regular physical activity, staying socially engaged, and maintaining good heart health. To end this crisis for women in America, we must make proactive brain health across the lifespan a priority for women everywhere. 

Diagnosis is not the only way women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s. Women carry the burden of the disease as caregivers for spouses, parents, family members, and friends of those who face the prospect of life with Alzheimer’s. According to the 2019 Alzheimer’s Associate Facts and Figures, approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women (more than one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters). Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s takes an emotional toll that can be accompanied by immense financial and physical burdens. Women bear 80 percent of the social cost of Alzheimer’s – already estimated at more than $200 billion in the U.S. alone. To address the caregiving discrepancy, we need to overhaul social support, medical, and workplace systems to promote economic justice for women. Increased funding for sex-based research worldwide is the first step to reaching this goal. WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s demands increased NIH and NIA funding for sex-based research to limit the disparate impacts of Alzheimer’s on women as caregivers and patients.