With better prevention of heart disease and improvements in treatment, life expectancy has not only increased but it has also led to higher deaths from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers which usually impacts senior Australians. As the population ages, the total number of people suffering from dementia is predicted to rise along with the total number of deaths due to this disease. Scroll down to learn more about how Australian women die of dementia and why dementia impacts women in a different way.
Dementia statistics that will alarm you
Did you know that there are more than 400,000 people in Australia who are presently suffering from dementia? Among them, 56% are women! You will also be alarmed to know that more than half of the Australian women found in residential home care support have dementia. Let’s take a quick look at the facts and figures regarding dementia.
- One among ten people above the age of 65 suffer from dementia
- It is predicted by researchers and analysts that by 2028, there will be more than 589,000 people suffering from dementia and more than almost a million by the time its 2058
- Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the leading cause of death for Australian women
- Dementia is also the biggest cause of disability among people in Australia who have crossed 65 years of age and it is also the third leading cause of the overall disability burden
- The symptoms and signs of dementia are usually noticed by the family members 3 years before the actual onset and diagnosis of the disease
Dementia is extremely common among women – Understanding the reasons
Alexander Whittle (name changed) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the year 2015 but she still loves sewing , solving jigsaw puzzles and dancing. Though new activities seem to be less appealing to her but when it comes to participating in the drug and research trials of Alzheimer’s, this is an exception. She has become comfortably habituated with loud brain scans to an extent that she falls asleep during the procedure.
Alexander is one among the 50 million people all over the world who suffer from dementia and this disease affects the processing of the brain and also affects the memory of the person. The numbers are rising rapidly and globally, there are estimates that 75 million people are going to live with dementia by 2030. Sadly, majority of them will be women.
It is unfortunate to note that in Australia, two-thirds of all the deaths due to dementia are women and two-thirds of all those who are living with dementia are also women. In fact, there are few cases where dementia even outshines all other female diseases. Australian and American women above 60 years are twice more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s as is the possibility with breast cancer. In Wales and England too, dementia is the leading cause of death among women knocking down heart issues.
What makes dementia different for women?
The risk of dementia is certainly a complicated puzzle and you can only solve this puzzle when you recognize and understand the ways in which this disease is different for women and men. The research and communication officer at Alzheimer’s Society, Dr. Aoife Kiely tells why being female or male could set an impact on the development of the dementia and its diagnosis. Here are few statistics and data on women and dementia.
- More women than women are affected with dementia than men and all over the world, women who are suffering from dementia outshine men 2 to 1.
- Brain scans reveal that the rate at which brain cells die within the brain are faster in women rather than men.
- Women usually live longer than men and hence as this disease comes with age, women automatically become more vulnerable to dementia.
Female data in research and its importance
There are times when animals are used in researching on dementia so that the condition can be understood and treatments developed thereafter. We are aware of the fact that data from female animals has always been ignored in the past as researchers have dismissed data which were results of experiments done on female animals or decided any drug on the basis of tests done on animals. This data was previous considered too inconvenient and odd. However, times have changed and today female data has sparked debate among several dementia researchers.
Nowadays people are aware of differences based on gender and hence they make sure they use a balance of female and male experiments so as to be able to compare the differences statistically as against a response to drug treatments. It can be of surprise that we didn’t learn more about how females and males respond in a different manner to treatment of medicines. Since clinical trials from 1993, women were included in various clinical trials.
Oestrogen and how it affects women
There’s no denying the fact that women share a lifelong relation with oestrogen, the female hormone. It is this hormone which affects the mental health, the brain, the liver, the cardiovascular system and various other organs. In fact, there are several studies which reveal that oestrogen can also safeguard brain cells. There are few researchers who suggested that when a woman has more oestrogen all over her life, she will be less vulnerable to developing dementia. For instance, if a woman starts her periods at a tender age, has given birth to one child and experiences menopause much later, she is less likely to suffer from this disease. Before we consider oestrogen as a wonder drug, there are few obstacles which need to be overcome.
Can hormone replacement therapy help dementia?
It is the hormone oestrogen which is used in hormone replacement therapy or oestrogen and there are many women who choose HRT to relieve themselves of the symptoms like anxiety and hot flushes. Nevertheless HRT suddenly became infamous when it was seen that the risks of breast cancers and heart diseases outweigh any potential advantages on memory and thinking. This is why researchers are striving hard to develop HRT which is more natural and better than the normal process. They’re also investigating that starting HRT way before time could reduce the risk of suffering from dementia.
Sex and its impact on diagnosis of dementia
Oestrogen has an impact on how the brain of a woman functions and grows. This is probably the reason why women have better verbal items and memory than men. In order to determine this part of our memory, researchers have measured their list of words. Even when women have mild thinking and memory issues, they still retain these skills. On the other hand, men are usually incorrectly diagnosed with dementia as their memory skills may not be strong. At the professional home care facilities, there is person-centered care which starts with a method of diagnosis that takes into account few factors like education, background, sex and on and off days.
Does the health of your heart contribute to developing dementia?
We are aware of the fact that anything that is good for the heart will also be good for your mental health. Better heart health is a sign of low risk of dementia and your heart health which affects the risk of dementia can even be linked to sex. If you have high blood pressure in your middle-life, this can lead to increased risk of developing dementia among women.
The complex relationship shared by oestrogen to the angiotensin system, which maintains the blood pressure of the body and also the cognitive function can have a strong influence on the risk of a woman to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia. With the influence of oestrogen, following menopause, a woman is at a higher risk of having high blood pressure and this too has to be tested in detail.
Taking care of a person with dementia – Few how-tos
Noone is born with the knowledge of communicating with a person with dementia but there’s no age to learning. Here are few proper communication skills which can help you in caring for someone with dementia.
#1: Set a proper mood to interact
Your body language and attitude will communicate your thoughts and feelings strongly than what your words can do. You should set a positive mood by speaking to the person in a respectful and pleasant way. Use a positive tone of voice, facial expressions and physical touch to convey the message and show your affectionate feelings.
#2: Draw the attention of the person
When you deal with a loved one who is suffering from dementia, you should restrain all sorts of noise and distraction – turn off the TV and radio, shut the door, close curtains and shift to quieter surrounding. Try to draw in the attention of the person by calling her by the name. In case she is seated, you should get down to her level and also stay in contact with her.
#3: Ask questions which can be answered simply
Don’t ask too many questions at the same time as the person with dementia will never be able to understand them. It is best to ask them questions which can be answered with an ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Stay away from asking open-minded questions or offering too many choices which can again confuse them. Use visual prompts and hints to clarify the question and guide her while she is thinking of the response.
#4: Keep your eyes, ears and heart alert while listening
Be patient enough when you wait for the person to reply. In case she seems to struggle with the answer, you can suggest her with words. You will also find body language and non-verbal cues while responding. When you listen to them, try to understand the feelings and meaning which lie underneath the words.
#5: Your message should be said clearly
When you speak, use simple sentences and words. Make sure you use a tone that’s reassuring. Don’t ever raise your voice louder or higher while speaking them as this might scare them and leave them worried. The pitch of your voice should be low enough. In case the person doesn’t understand at the first go, use the same word to repeat the message or question. Wait for few minutes when she still doesn’t understand the question.
#6: Redirect and distract if things get tough
In case your loved one gets agitated and upset, change the topic of conversation or change the place where the person is residing. You can suggest him for a walk and even when you let the person walk, you should be able to connect with the person. Apologise even if you haven’t done anything wrong.
#7: Maintain a sense of humor
Whenever possible, you should display your sense of humor but that doesn’t mean that you should do it at the loved one’s expense. People who are suffering from dementia usually retain their social management skills and hence they are often delighted when you laugh along with them.
Therefore, if you’re someone who is a caregiver to a family member with dementia, you should keep in mind all the above listed communication skills so that you communicate in the best way with the person. Watch out for early symptoms and speak with a doctor to get things under control.