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This article is part of the supplement: Women's Health Surveillance Report

Open Access Report

Dementia / Alzheimer's Disease

Joan Lindsay1* and Lori Anderson2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Canada and Surveillance and Risk Assessment Division, Health Canada

2 Private Consultant, Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Women's Health 2004, 4(Suppl 1):S20  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-4-S1-S20

Published: 25 August 2004


Health Issues

Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (AD) increases exponentially with age from the age of 65. The number of people with dementia will increase significantly over the next three decades as the population ages. While prevalence and incidence rates do not differ markedly in women, compared to men, women live longer on average, so the number of women with dementia is greater than for men. Also, women are more frequently caregivers for people with dementia. Thus, dementia is an important health problem for women.

Key Findings

The Canadian Study of Health and Aging showed an increase in prevalence of dementia with age for both sexes, approximately doubling every five years of age. Rates of AD were higher in women whereas rates of vascular dementia were higher in men. The risk of AD increased with increasing age, lower education, and apolipoprotein E ε4. Regular physical activity was clearly protective in women; this was less clear for men. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, wine consumption, and past exposure to vaccines decreased the risk of AD. Estrogen replacement therapy did not reduce the risk of AD. About three quarters of caregivers for dementia patients were women.

Data Gaps and Recommendations

The protective effect of regular physical activity for AD provides an additional reason to promote regular physical activity at all ages. Ongoing surveillance of the incidence, prevalence and risks for dementia is needed to monitor the impact of treatments as well as the aging of the population on the burden of dementia.