A common part of the ageing process could be drastically increasing the risk of developing dementia for one group of older Australians.
A Monash University study reveals that menopause accelerates brain shrinkage in women, putting them at a greater risk of developing dementia, The Australian reports.
Dementia is the second-leading cause of death in Australia (for all genders and ages) and the leading cause of death among women. Globally, women with dementia outnumber men with the condition by around two to one.
Menopause is known to cause elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and the research team initially thought it was these heart issues causing the increase in dementia risk.
“As women go through menopause, they go from being at lower risk of things like heart attacks and strokes to being at a higher risk quite suddenly,” says Professor Chris Moran, co-author of the study.
“For a long time, we thought it was that rapid accumulation of risk that explained why women have a higher risk of dementia.
“What we’ve found is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Those factors are important, but they don’t explain all of it.”
By analysing data from the UK Biobank, the research team found an increase in the likelihood of developing dementia is strongly correlated with declining brain volume – a side-effect of menopause.
Although keeping your heart healthy is still important for brain health, it appears the effects of menopause have an even greater impact, which would account for increased number of women with dementia.
“We found that healthy older women [who had been through menopause] had lower brain volumes than men, even if those men had cardiometabolic risk factors such as diabetes and strokes,” Prof. Moran says.
“It’s still important to reduce the risk of having heart attacks and strokes, but if we’re trying to reduce the risk of dementia later in life in women, we need to look more broadly than just those factors.”
Professor Velandai Srikanth, another co-author of the study, says this new information will help medical professionals better identify those at a greater risk of dementia and hopefully allow for earlier intervention.
“This work helps us begin to understand who we should target for preventive efforts for reducing future dementia risk, and that such efforts may need to be different for men and women.”
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