March 01, 2021 2:18 PM

Women Experience Faster Cognitive Decline with Age

A new analysis finds higher baseline cognition scores for aging women, but a more rapid drop once cognitive decline begins.

drawing of brain in blue ink with the words lab note in blue on bottom in yellow
Michigan Medicine

Women may start middle age with stronger brain function than men, but as they get older, women’s cognition declines faster.

That’s according to a new analysis from more than 26,000 Black and white men and women who had participated in one of five long-term cohort studies. The researchers found that women had significantly faster declines in overall cognition and executive function, the brain processes used in problem-solving, planning and managing your time. However, memory decline was comparable between men and women.

“We estimate that cognitive function in women declined around five years faster than their ages would suggest,” says lead author Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of internal medicine and neurology at Michigan Medicine, and director of its Cognitive Health Services Research Program. “Differences in biological, genetic, social and lifestyle factors between men and women might contribute to faster cognitive decline in women, and more research is needed.”

Researchers attribute the higher initial cognitive levels in women to greater cognitive reserve. Women’s higher initial scores might delay detecting thinking difficulties, so it’s important for loved ones and physicians to closely monitor older women for the first signs of cognitive decline, Levine says.

Paper cited: “Sex Differences in Cognitive Decline Among US Adults,” JAMA Network Open. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0169