A study claims that symptoms of Alzheimer’s are different in men and women, which could also affect diagnosis rates.

It’s well established that women are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than men – around two thirds of people living with dementia are women – but nobody has been able to confirm why exactly this might be.

Now researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Florida believe it’s because men often don’t get the traditional symptoms of memory loss and confusion that can act as a red flag for dementia during diagnosis.

Dementia in women seems more commonly to affect the hippocampus, the area of the brain linked to memory, while in men, the disease may affect other areas of the brain. For men, they can develop symptoms such as aphasia – a condition that causes language problems – or develop corticobasal degeneration, which causes problems with movement.

The researchers examined the autopsy and clinical records of 1606 people from the State of Florida brain bank who had been confirmed as having Alzheimer’s disease post-mortem.

They also discovered that the age of onset differed between the sexes, with a spike in cases for men in their 60s, while women tended to be diagnosed in their 70s and beyond.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

‘An accurate and timely diagnosis of dementia is essential to enable people to live well for as long as possible. If one in five people are living with a wrong diagnosis, they might not have access to treatments that can provide welcome relief from some of their symptoms.

‘Alzheimer’s was first identified in a woman in the early 1900s but these results suggest there are important differences in how the disease affects men and women. More research is needed to understand how much mis-diagnosis in men contributes to the observation that nearly two thirds of people living with dementia in the UK are women.’

The research was presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto.

Other research presented at the conference includes a study which links the thickness of the retina in someone’s eye to declining cognitive ability, suggesting that those with a thin nerve fibre layer in the retina were more likely to perform poorly on cognitive tests. It links into a news story last week, which suggested that scanning the retina could be a useful non-invasive means of diagnosing dementia in the future.

Source: Alzheimers.org.uk Telegraph.co.uk theguardian.com