Having superior verbal memory abilities could mean the first signs of dementia would be missed in women, according to a recent study
When it comes to multi-tasking and memory skills, women often outscore men. However, These advantages could also have some downsides, particularly when it comes to getting a timely dementia diagnosis.
Researchers from the University of California in San Diego found that verbal memory skills – the ability to recall information that is in words and includes hearing, reading and any other avenue that involves speech and language – is generally better in women. However, these abilities could mask any pre-dementia changes in the brain.
The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, looked at 254 people with Alzheimer’s disease, 672 people with mild cognitive impairment that included memory problems, and 390 people with no thinking or memory problems.
Verbal memory skills were tested and scans measured how well their brains metabolised glucose, which is the primary energy source for the brain. Poor metabolism is a sign of dysfunction in brain cells.
For those who had no, mild or moderate problems with brain metabolism, women scored better than men on the memory tests.
When the metabolism problems were measured for participants with more serious memory problems, researchers discovered that the women had lower levels of glucose than men but a similar level of impairment, suggesting their cognitive problems were more advanced than men.
Study author Doctor Erin Sundermann, of the University of California, San Diego, said:
‘Women perform better than men on tests of verbal memory throughout life, which may give them a buffer of protection against losing their verbal memory skills in the precursor stages of Alzheimer’s disease, known as mild cognitive impairment.
‘This is especially important because verbal memory tests are used to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, so women may not be diagnosed until they are further along in the disease.
‘If these results are confirmed, adjusting memory tests to account for the differences between men and women may help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier in women.’