How Alzheimer’s Impacts Men and Women Differently

An overwhelming majority of those suffering from age-related disorders are women, and chief among the disorders, is Alzheimer’s disease. The numbers show that women in memory care facilities vastly outnumber men, and what’s more, is that women are also providing the most care to seniors with dementia. This post looks at how aging disproportionately impacts women, leading to the high ratio of women Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.

Conversely, we will also examine how this can impact the experiences of older men in memory care communities and senior living.

Longer Lives Drives Alzheimer’s Prevalence in Women
It is well-known that women live a few years longer than men on average. Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. is now 81 years for females and 76 years for males according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Although it’s not clear why women live longer, experts suggest a combination of factors like genetics and men’s propensity for risky behavior (drinking, smoking and fighting, for instance) can drive the difference in life expectancy.

With Alzheimer’s disease being an age related disorder- meaning the longer one lives, the more likely he or she is to develop the disease- it is logical that Alzheimer’s significantly affects more women than men. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 65% of Alzheimer’s patients are women, which explains why women are the majority of residents in memory care in addition to senior living communities.

Memory Care by Gender

Increasing Prevalence of Men at Memory Care

While women continue to be the majority of memory care residents, men are also gradually gaining ground in these communities. An analysis of our senior community move-in data showed that in 2010, 33% of moves to memory care communities were male residents, with that number increasing to 35% in 2014.

There could be a few factors leading to the increasing amount of men in memory care, which include:

A shrinking age gap

Underutilzation of senior care options

Men are gradually decreasing as proportion of assisted living residents. [Click to enlarge]

Less Men at Assisted Living – More Men at Memory Care

A Place for Mom analyzed data in preparation for this story, which interestingly demonstrated that there are proportionally more men at memory care than at assisted living communities.

When looking at the gender of seniors who moved into assisted living and memory care, we found that the ratio of men at assisted living communities has declined slightly. In 2010, 26% of assisted living move-ins were male residents while thus far in 2014, the figure is down to 24% men. In other words, there are 8% less men at assisted living but 6% more men at memory care.

You could interpret these figures as meaning that men are “graduating” from assisted living to memory care, but it’s also reasonable to suppose that more men resist and refuse assisted living if they can possibly avoid it. Thus, by the time memory care is required, they don’t have the autonomy or ability to avoid receiving care any longer.

Life as a Minority: Men at Alzheimer’s Care and Other Senior Living

Men are gradually increasing as a share of memory care residents. [Click to enlarge]

Because females tend to dominate the population of seniors, the decor, activities, and ambiance of senior communities are often feminine. This can make senior living environments somewhat uncomfortable for men, unless common areas and activities for men are present (for instance, card rooms and billiards rooms).

It’s easy to imagine a man of any age becoming frustrated with life in a environment where there are no opportunities to express or experience the masculine aspect of themselves, which is why we wrote a blog especially dedicated to finding a community for the men in your life called A Place for Dad: Does Gender Matter in Senor Care? It contains a number of tips and guidelines for those searching for care for a male relative in an industry that largely caters to females.

Men, Alzheimer’s and Behavior Problems

One challenge for men with Alzheimer’s involves a man’s size and strength. Alzheimer’s disease and the confusion and fear it can evoke on occasion causes sufferers to act out and even become aggressive. Some Alzheimer’s patients will yell at, curse at, push, or even strike their caregivers. Some patients, men in particular, will even act in sexually inappropriate ways that can make caregivers and family members very uncomfortable.

While professionals and family members recognize it’s the disease exhibiting this behavior and that the patient has little or no freewill by this stage of their illness, it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. Both men and women can exhibit these behaviors, but because men are bigger, stronger, and generally more aggressive, these behaviors can be much more difficult to address in men. For this reason, finding care for a men with Alzheimer’s who has behavior problems can be a major challenge.

Women Make Up Disproportionately Large Number of Caregivers

We’ve established that more women have Alzheimer’s disease but that the illness can cause special challenges for men. Another important point is that women continue to be the vast majority of Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Some might suggest that women are more nurturing and are therefore more inclined to take on these roles, while others may argue that women are merely fulfilling prescribed gender roles rather than drawing from their instincts as natural nurturers. Without getting sucked into a debates about gender equality, we can acknowledge that whatever the cause, women are America’s caregivers, which is not an easy job to take on.

Women Bear the Brunt of the Alzheimer’s Burden

A recent report by the Alzheimer’s Association put it this way: “Women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s epidemic.” The report cited a number of startling facts about Alzheimer’s and its impact on women in the coming decades, including:

A woman in her 60′s has a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease during her remaining life, while that figure is one in eleven chance for men over 60

60%-70% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women

10 million women are providing unpaid care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or a related type of dementia

“Because of caregiving duties, women are likely to experience adverse consequences in the workplace. Nearly 19 percent of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to quit work either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome”

A Challenge for All

We also must not forget that while Alzheimer’s affects more women, it is just as hard on men, though, perhaps in a different way. To reiterate, some of the differences in the ways men face Alzheimer’s include:

The fact that men are the minority of Alzheimer’s sufferers means that many therapies might be too feminized for their tastes

The traditional male reluctance to ask for help or admit weakness means they may not get help until late in the disease stage (which could be the reason men are just 24% of assisted living residents)

The increased difficulty of caring for men with Alzheimer’s disease who have behavior problems or exhibit aggression

The relatively limited contribution of men toward Alzheimer’s caregiving

In Conclusion

Alzheimer’s is a brutal disease on both patients and loved ones, but increasing our understanding of the illness and the ways it effects both females and males differently has many benefits, including that:

It helps us manage the illness better as caregivers, professionals, or even patients

It diminishes fear of the unknown and replaces it with empowering knowledge

It helps us understand that there is no one-size-fits-all Alzheimer’s care protocol. Alzheimer’s care is best personalized, and gender factors can’t be ignored

It allows us to recognize the caregiving gender inequity and, should we deem it desirable, work to make a culture where caregiving duties are more evenly balanced between men and women

Do you feel Alzheimer’s affects men and women differently? Do you have thoughts on how our culture can promote the best care for seniors with memory disorders? Help our blog become a place of vibrant conversation and leave your thoughts below.

Source:  Jeff Anderson