Women’s Brain Health & Why Grey Matter Now Matters
Women suffer from depression, stroke and dementia twice as much as men and an astounding 70% of new Alzheimer’s patients will be women. Yet research still focuses on men. We want to correct this research bias.
Women’s Brain Health Initiative creates education programs and funds research to combat
brain-aging diseases that affect women.
Thanks in large part to the work of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI), science is now paying a lot of attention to women’s brain health. WBHI is a partner of the
Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration and Aging, which is an umbrella group that oversees all the brain research that is happening in Canada. Because of its significant funding clout, WBHI has been able to ensure that every participant group—in all brain research undertaken in Canada—includes enough women to matter. What do I mean by “enough women to matter”? I mean that there have to be enough women in each study to be statistically significant, so the research conclusions of the study apply to women, not just to men.
WBHI has been able to make sex & gender part of core research in Canada
And it is not that women are a priority only in the research today that is being done today. Governments come and go, and researchers’ interests shift, and those changes can also alter research priorities. But WBHI has been able to make sex and gender—and therefore women—part of the core value of all the brain research that is going on. And core values are impervious to the fickle winds of change. We may not know today why more women than men suffer from Alzheimer’s, but because of the inclusion of women as a core value in research we will know at some point in the future.
In fact, there is a lot of research going on now to discover ways to identify cognitive decline earlier in women. This includes research on issues around Alzheimer’s disease, which is now being recognized as “a woman’s disease” because so many more women than men suffer from it, as mentioned above. Drug development is another important area of research because the drugs we currently have for treating brain problems may not work as effectively in women as they do in men.
Lifestyle Choices Can Affect Brain Health
The current research also includes a focus on lifestyles choices. We know some of the things that can contribute to cognitive difficulties in old age, and many of them are things we can control. For instance, we know we can alter smoking, diet, exercise, stress, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels—all of which can have a big impact on cognitive health, or to put it another way, on cognitive decline. As with any research, there is always the possibility of unexpected results. For instance, one study showed that the most important decade of life to impact brain health through exercise is your 20s. That’s right, exercise in your 20s makes the biggest difference to your brain 50 years later! So, realistically, you are never too young to start thinking about your brain and how to keep it healthy.
WBHI Celebrates 5 years
I have been fortunate to be a member on the board of the directors of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative founded by Lynn Posluns five years ago. The www.wbhi.org website has the most comprehensive information on women and brain health including research, events and healthy aging tips plus ways to get involved. I urge you to take a few moments and visit their site.
On May 10, WBHI will be celebrating its 5th Anniversary and honouring the individuals, including myself as a Catalyst who have been involved in helping make Women’s Brains Matter. 6pm-9 pm at the Gardiner Museum. Tickets for $60 can be purchased on the WBHI site under events.
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