Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most ruthless and debilitating diseases that can strike an individual. It has no mercy, no regard for love or compassion, and absolutely no remorse for those it leaves in its wake. As it rips everything good and pure away from the afflicted, it often takes its cruelty out on the women of the world first and foremost, hitting them the hardest and forcing loved ones to watch in sadness as the matriarchs of families slowly wither away and become shells of their former selves.
In 2014 America, there are roughly 5.2 million people living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost two-thirds of which are women. Those numbers are set to increase at an alarming rate as the baby boomer generation matures. By 2050, 5 million looks more like 16 million, and still it will be women who take the brunt of that blow, with odds of developing the disease almost twice as high as that of men.
Women in their 60s, the age when most cases start to reveal themselves, fare even worse when the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease is combined with another major health concern for women – breast cancer. The estimated risk of a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease in her 60s is 1 in 6, the Alzheimer’s Association says, compared to 1 in 11 for breast cancer. These statistics put women directly at the epicenter of a growing epidemic and a battle that attacks women’s health from both sides.
With diligent research being conducted on all fronts around the globe there is still no clue as to how the process of the disease begins. The only certainty is that damage starts in the brain a decade or more before signs of the disease become evident. At that time, both men and women are symptom free, but inside, the brain is already being changed by the disease. According to NIH and its National Institute on Aging, abnormal deposits of proteins form tau tangles and amyloid plaques throughout the brain, which hit healthy neurons hard and cause them to work inefficiently. Over time, Alzheimer’s disease kicks into high gear and those same neurons lose function and the ability to communicate with each other, which leads eventually to death.
If a woman is fortunate enough to beat the odds and evade the wrath of Alzheimer’s disease leading into her golden years, the chances that she will remain unaffected by Alzheimer’s in some way are still slim to none. That is because twice as many women than men will provide care for Alzheimer’s patients as the disease progresses, according to USA TODAY. This also means that more women will have to cut back on work hours, give up jobs and/or lose benefits as a result. Also, the ability to focus on a career is made that much more difficult by the process of progressive Alzheimer’s.
In an age where the empowerment of women is more evident and stronger than it has ever been before, it is clear that one obstacle remains firmly in the way – Alzheimer’s disease. It is a disease that is merciless and whose cure is proving to be elusive to scientists. It hits hard, especially in women, forcing them to live with the knowledge that they will eventually lose themselves and be stripped of all they ever had and all they ever cherished. Everyone that loves them and cares for them will be right there every step of the way, watching them slip away. Alzheimer’s disease is frightening and cruel, and perhaps the scariest part of it all is that it is pointed straight at the women of the world and the future generations to be.
By Justin Williams