Women and Brain Health: An In-depth Look

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 400,000 Canadians, aged 65 and older, live with dementia, and alarmingly enough, women account for two-thirds of this number. Many of us have witnessed the slow and painful demise of a loved one to this savage disease. You lose this person one memory at a time, one sad day at a time. Helplessly “raging against the dying of the light” as Robert Frost says and being able to do absolutely nothing about it.

In 2019, a new initiative was introduced to highlight the importance of brain health in women and bring awareness on how brain ageing disorders can disproportionately affect the female population. According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, depression, strokes, and various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s affect more women than men, which suggests that biological sex differences put women at a higher risk for brain disorders and, in turn, influence their responses to treatment.

Though there has been a growth in acknowledgement, there is lack of research to help understand why this is the case. As with some other initiatives in the past, an increase of awareness to women’s brain health could lead to more future studies.

Dr. Gillian Einstein, who has recently been awarded The Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in Women’s Brain Health, will be implementing integrated programs of research, mentoring and education, and knowledge translation based on the following principles:

  • Sex & Gender: Biological differences (sex) and social position (gender) affect brain health, requiring integrated projects.
  • Brain, body, environment: The brain is not autonomous; it responds to and integrates other body processes and is sensitive to the outside world, including changes induced by cultural (gendered) practices.
  • Life process: Brain health, especially in ageing, results from accumulating life-long processes involving diverse interacting factors.

The programs mentioned above are to help increase an understanding of why dementia and other brain-ageing conditions are more common in women, and how we can use this knowledge to develop gender-specific approaches to prevention and treatment. Feel free to investigate this topic further here.

In addition, Brain Canada is collaborating with the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI) to help translate and communicate the outcomes of brain research by engaging and educating Canadians on the importance of brain health.

For more information, you can visit the WBHI’s website to see their various initiatives, such as:

  • Stand Ahead, their annual fundraising campaign.
  • Memory Morsels, a website dedicated to brain healthy recipes.
  • Brainable, an education program geared to students in grades 5 through 8 on the best ways to protect their brain health.

Aside from family, friends, and your health practitioner, building a relationship with your pharmacist is beneficial in numerous ways. Through rapport and connection, having a pharmacist that you regularly interact with will enable them to help identify changes in your behaviour and recognize any early signs of dementia such as:

  • Memory problems, in particular remembering recent events.
  • Increasing confusion.
  • Personality or behaviour changes.
  • Apathy and withdrawal or depression.

Other helpful resources:

Alzheimer Society: https://alzheimer.ca/en

Government of Canada’s Information on Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease:

Canadian Institute for Health Information Dementia Summary: https://www.cihi.ca/en/dementia-in-canada/dementia-in-canada-summary

Provincial Dementia Action Plan for British Columbia: https://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2012/dementia-action-plan.pdf

Health Link BC’s Specific Information on Dementia: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/uf4984

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