Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, and a new study shows that certain brain changes known to increase this risk may accrue during menopause.
Women who have gone through menopause have more white matter hyperintensities in their brains than premenopausal women or men of the same age, researchers found. These are tiny lesions seen on brain scans that are linked to an increased risk of cerebral small vessel diseases, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and problems with thinking and memory.
“At a younger age, on average, there are no discernible differences between men and women, [but] older women have more of these abnormalities than men of similar age, and this gap occurs around menopause and widens thereafter,” said study author Dr. Monique Breteler. She is the director of population health sciences at the German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany.
The new findings point to menopause as an important turning point, she said.
“Whether it is the occurrence of menopause itself [and the related change in hormone levels], or rather, that menopause occurs as a result of and marks [other] underlying mechanisms, remain to be investigated,” Breteler said.