June is Men’s Health Month, which makes it the perfect time to examine the different challenges genders can face in regard to brain health. Are men at a higher risk for various forms of dementia?
The relationship between biological sex and dementia is not cut and dry. It is a topic currently being studied by scientists. Environmental, personal, and hereditary factors play a vital role in each individual case of dementia. Although the topic is still fairly new and underexplored, observing all possible correlations and causations is vital with respect to the study of incurable diseases.
Biological Sex and Dementia
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy body refers to the protein deposits in nerve cells of the brain that affect regions involved with memory and movement. According to the Mayo Clinic and many global studies, research indicated that Lewy body dementia affects more men than women. Men are also at a higher risk of developing Vascular dementia (VaD).
On the other hand, women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as men.
Several scientists, neurologists, and epidemiologists say more women are diagnosed with dementia and other cognitive-related diseases and disorders, simply because women live longer. Women also have more time to develop, as well as make up more of the global population.
With all of these types of diseases, age seems to be the key component. The higher in age, the more likely one is to develop dementia risk factors like strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Higher Health Risks for Men
A Harvard University article said that men tend to fall ill at younger ages yet visit doctors less often than women.
“Men are nearly 10 times more likely to get inguinal hernias than women, and five times more likely to have aortic aneurysms. Although women see doctors more often than men, men cost our society much more for medical care beyond age 65.”
The same Harvard article goes into detail to answer the question of why men are facing more health issues. The authors cite three likely categories of factors:
1. Biological Factors
2. Social Factors
3. Behavioral Factors
Men and women are extremely different in terms of chromosomes, hormones, and overall biology makeup.
Impact of XY versus XX on Disease
Chromosomes typically carry 25,000 genes. Some genes are linked to hereditary diseases. What does this entail for men in particular? If a woman has a disease-producing gene on one of her X chromosomes, it may be counterbalanced by a “normal” gene on the other X, but if a man has the same bad gene on his X chromosome, he lacks the potential protection of a matching gene.
Metabolism has many effects on how the body uses and stores things like fat, sugar, and cholesterol. As many know, too much of these things can cause diabetes, stroke, and heart attack, which may also ultimately result in dementia. Both men and women usually have the same base levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol.
According to Healthline.com, “men are generally at a higher risk than women for high cholesterol.”
Diabetic and weight-related cases within both groups continue to rapidly increase. Obesity among women is more prevalent, but anatomical makeup can benefit their weight, while men are at a disadvantage.
Women tend to be “pear shaped,” which allows weight to be distributed between their hips and thighs, while men tend to carry their access weight in their abdomens and waistlines, making them “apple shaped,” or to have the dreaded “beer belly.”
Doctors say excess weight is never good and most also say abdominal obesity increases chances of heart attack and stroke.
Social Pressure for Men
The American Heart Association says, “men are less likely than women to get preventive screenings, seek timely medical care, or be vaccinated for COVID-19 or the flu.”
This is a statistic rooted in the stereotypical concepts of masculinity. There are societal clichés in which men do not ask for help or as Wizdom Powell, director of the UConn Health Disparities Institute, says “the messages ‘take it like a man,’ ‘boys don’t cry,’ ‘walk it off,’ and ‘soldier on’ are things that some men internalize with a particular level of rigidity.”
Due to these societal or internalized messages, many men do not seek help for ailments, depression, or simple check-ups, which puts their physical and mental health at risk.
Risky Behaviors by Biological Sex
Rehan Aziz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says “there’s a difference in the smoking rate – 17% of adult men versus 14% of adult females.”
Men statistically lead in unhealthy habits. They are more likely to take greater risks with vehicles, firearms, and substances. According to the American Addiction Centers, “8.3% men and 4.5% women reported that they were heavy alcohol users.”
Unhealthy habits create greater risks for disease, as well as speed up the development of heart issues and chance of stroke, also damaging brain health.
The Benefit of Knowing
These statistics are not meant to be daunting or the be-all and end-all of one’s health. Each person is different. Each man will have differentiating encounters in his life that impact his health. Having information may simply enable any person to reevaluate how to approach overall health and healthcare treatments.