Doctors may be able to screen men for Alzheimer’s at even younger ages, according to a new study presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. A study from the Mayo Clinic showed that Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects over 5 million Americans, is found in both men and women, contrary to the belief that this disease was predominantly found in women.
Researchers determined that men with Alzheimer’s had atypical symptoms and tended to be younger at diagnosis.
The study’s lead author, Melissa Murray, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic, said that researchers were able to collect data from a fairly large brain bank that provided insight into an entire community of people with Alzheimer’s dementia. What they found was striking.
“[In those with Alzheimer’s] men in their 60s were overrepresented," she said, meaning a higher number men were affected in that age group than was expected by researchers.
For these men the disease also had more involvement in a key part of the brain that controlled higher level function, possibly leading to death before the age of 70 for some patients. This possible "progressive" form of the disease could be why Alzhemier’s disease appears to affect more women according to current data. Women tend to be diagnosed with this disease at an older age and with a milder clinical course.
James Hendrix, the director of the Global Sciences Initiative at the Alzheimer’s Association, explained the challenges of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease with current diagnostic tools.
“Diagnosis of [Alzheimer’s] is messy and challenging, and is done through cognitive testing, which is not the same as an objective measure, like a biomarker," he said.
The most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulty completing daily tasks, confusion with remembering time and place, challenges with problem-solving and issues with speech, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
According to Hendrix, this study could have a tremendous impact on diagnosis.
“For people, in particular in their 60s, this disease impacts more men [and] that’s really important to understand from a diagnosis perspective," he said. “Why are we seeing women disproportionately affected? It’s because women live longer, but it’s more than that. Understanding these differences could help understanding Alzheimer's disease and what is causing this disease to help create strategies to lower Alzheimer's disease risk."
Experts are hopeful that new imaging technology can help determine why the disease appears to affect men and women differently.
New methods for diagnosis including Amyloid PET Imaging brain scans are in the process of being accepted by researchers, although major roadblocks, including Medicare coverage, could prevent these tools from being widely embraced.
Hendrix noted at the conference that vision and smell tests may also lead to earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Shyam Sivasankar is an emergency medicine resident at the Stanford University-Kaiser Permanente program. He is a resident with the ABC News Medical Unit.