Alzheimer’s Impact on Women

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s crisis.” The impact of the variety of brain diseases we refer to as “dementias” is far reaching in the lives of women. From caregiving to heightened risks of getting the disease, dementia ripples into the many aspects of life including work, retirement, finances, health, relationships, and more.  

While no one plans to get Alzheimer’s, perhaps we should be recognizing the likely possibility that it will impact someone in our family or friends. Perhaps the staggering statistics should shape the way we talk about and plan for long life. As we age, our risks for developing dementia increase dramatically. When we look at the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by age group the breakdown looks something like this:

  • 4% are <65 years
  • 15% are 65-74 years
  • 44% are 75-84 years
  • 38% are 85+ years    

Who is Providing the Care?

In total, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 (Alzheimer’s Association). Approximately 5 million of those people are age 65 and older. So, who is providing care for these individuals? An estimated 66% of caregivers in general are women and the average age of a female caregiver is 48,” according to the National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP.  The Alzheimer’s Association adds that when it comes to Alzheimer’s and dementia, women make up more than 60% of the caregivers. “More than 3 in 5 unpaid Alzheimer’s caregivers are women and there are 2.5 more women than men who are providing 24-hour care for someone with Alzheimer’s.”

Female Caregivers in the Workplace

For those women in the workplace who are balancing caregiving duties with family and work responsibilities, it can be overwhelming. A Gallup Healthways Wellbeing Survey found that “More than 1 in 6 Americans working full or part time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member. Caregivers working at least 15 hours per week said it significantly affected their worklife.” Employees who are also caregivers commonly experience increased absenteeism, reduction of hours, increased stress, lack of focus, and increased illness from the heavy burden. “Nearly 19% of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to quit work either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome.” (Alzheimer’s Association). The financial ramifications for this difficult decision to leave the workplace early can also be quite heavy for caregivers. The MetLife Mature Market Institute in their report called, Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers found that, “the total individual amount of lost wages, social security, and benefits due to leaving the labor force early because of caregiving responsibilities equals $324,044 for women and $283,716 for men. What accounts for the large gap between lost wages is that women are more likely to leave the workforce to take up the role of caregiver. These dementia caregivers are often leaving the workforce at a point in their lives when they are at their highest earning potential and so we see a dramatic impact on their own financial situation and retirement options. Baby Boomers hope to continue to stay in the workforce longer. In fact, “75% of people 50+ expect to work past age 65”, according to the National Study for the Changing Workforce. The increasing need for family involvement in care during the later stages of life seems to be greatly impacting the employment goals of a significant amount of the baby boomer generation and beyond.    

The Health Risks

When we think of the most dangerous diseases impacting women, we tend to focus on breast cancer or heart disease, which are real threats, but as we age, the risks change dramatically. For a woman age 65, she has a 9.3% chance of developing breast cancer, but a 17.2% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 5.2 million Americans living with the disease, almost two-thirds are women. What is interesting is that studies have found that caring for a person with dementia actually impacts the caregiver’s immune system for up to 3 years after their caregiving ends increasing their risk of developing a chronic illness themselves, according to research by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.  

Sound Options for Dementia Caregivers

Whether it is managing medications and doctor visits, or just providing the day-to-day dementia care in the home, the loved ones we care for are surrounded by a complex web of needs and desires. When a parent or spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, it is common for the adult children or spouse to become the hub of care, managing several categories of needs. Fortunately dementia caregivers have Sound Options for reprieve care and professional guidance. As RNs and MSWs, Geriatric Care Managers are pivotal in assisting families at the hub to simplify, coordinate, and proactively guide the care of a loved one. At Sound Options, we believe that families deserve to be accompanied in the journey with the very best expertise, wisdom, memory care, and support. Dementia demands our creativity. To learn how our team of Caregivers and Geriatric Care Managers are transforming the way families address dementia care, give us a call at 800.628.7649.

Further Resources

The Shriver Report: A Study by Maria Shriver and the Alzheimer’s Association

A Woman’s Nation Takes On Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association

SoundLife Blog: Dementia & Alzheimer’s

MetLife Mature Market Survey
Women’s Views on Family Financial Obligations: A MetLife Survey of Intergenerational Findings of Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y.


Published on October 29, 2014.