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Dr. Zaheer Ahmed, St. Luke's Hospital

Alzheimer's disease and women

Many of us forget where we put our keys or if we remembered to turn off the iron. These lapses in memory are typical for the average American. It's only as we get older that we begin to wonder if it's just "old age" or if it's something more.

If you or a loved one have experienced a loss of short-term memory, have difficulty finishing tasks, are confused about dates and times or have experienced a change in mood or personality, it could be a sign of Alzheimer's disease.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a classification of conditions that interfere with memory and intellectual function. Most of us know that as we age, the risk for developing this condition becomes elevated. What many of us don't realize is that other factors weigh in on the possibility of developing this disease.

First, we know that the incidence of Alzheimer's is higher in women, and studies are ongoing to determine why. Some research has shown that women tend to develop Alzheimer's at a higher rate because of menopause, their tendency to live longer and other hormonal factors, but no definitive study has shown the actual link between gender and Alzheimer's.

Other factors to consider when making a diagnosis include lifestyle, family history and genetics. We now know that having a family member with the disease or inheriting a certain gene can influence the probability of developing the disease.

Alzheimer's is a complex disease usually caused by plaques, "tangles" in the brain or the lack of connectivity between nerve cells which interferes with neuron activity. These processes eventually lead to shrinkages in key areas of the brain until the body can no longer function on its own.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but there are several ongoing studies to find the best ways to manage and treat the condition. In the meantime, patients and their doctors will find the best ways to handle the disease's progression including the use of medications, cognitive training, physical activity and using other treatments usually reserved for other types of diseases.

Dr. Zaheer Ahmed is a neurologist at St. Luke's Hospital. To connect with a physician who specializes in Alzheimer's disease, visit the Find a Physician page or call 314-205-6060.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 28, 2013.