Memory Loss May Be More Common in Men

Study Shows Mild Cognitive Impairment Affects Men More Than Women

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 07, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 7, 2010 -- Men may experience mild loss of memory and thinking skills more often than women, new research suggests.

And the reason may be gender related, says study researcher Ronald Petersen, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The study shows that a condition known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which sometimes leads to Alzheimer's disease, affects men more than women.

People with mild cognitive impairment notice problems with memory and thinking skills beyond what would be expected due to the normal aging process, and their lapses are often detected by others.

Research has shown that people with mild cognitive impairment are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease within a few years. But not everyone who gets a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment goes on to develop Alzheimer's.

Mild Cognitive Impairment: Men vs. Women

Petersen's study found that mild cognitive impairment was 1.5 times higher in men compared to women.

"This is the first study conducted among community-dwelling persons to find a higher prevalence of MCI [mild cognitive impairment] in men," Petersen says in a news release. "If these results are confirmed in other studies, it may suggest that factors related to gender play a role in the disease."

For example, he says, "men may experience cognitive decline earlier in life but more gradually, whereas women may transition from normal memory directly to dementia at a later age but more quickly."

Testing Memory Skills

The researchers conducted in-person interviews with 2,050 men and women between the ages of 70 and 89 in Olmstead County, Minn. Participants were asked about their memories and their medical history. They were tested on memory and thinking skills.

The study shows that:

  • 14% of participants had mild cognitive impairment.
  • About 10% had dementia.
  • 76% had normal memory and thinking skills.
  • 19% of the men had mild cognitive impairment, compared to 14% of the women.
  • 3.3% of those interviewed face-to-face had a dementia that had not been detected by records or other methods.

"Our results, showing combined rates of MCI and dementia at 22%, highlight the public health impact these conditions have and the importance of finding treatments for them," Petersen says.

People in the study who had a low level of education or who had never been married had a higher rate of mild cognitive impairment.

Those subjects with an ApoE e4 gene, linked to increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, were also found to have an increased rate of mild cognitive impairment.

The study is published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.