Throughout the world, dementia disproportionately affects women. Women’s Health Week (5 – 11 September) also serves as a reminder for women, including those living with dementia and those caring for others with dementia, to take action to reduce their risk of other health conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.
Dementia and women
In Australia, nearly two-thirds of people living with dementia are women and, according to the AIHW, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of death for Australian women.
One of the main reasons for the greater prevalence of dementia among women is the longer life expectancy of women (life expectancy for Australian men is 81.2 years and for Australian women is 85.3 years). While the likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, dementia is not considered a normal part of the ageing process.
Common signs and symptoms of dementia you may notice in a family member could include changes to:
- Progressive and frequent memory loss
- Personality change
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.
Note that everyone’s experience of dementia is different. There is a lot of variability in the type and severity of symptoms each person experiences, and this may change from day to day.
Early detection and diagnosis are important to increase the number of treatment and rehabilitation options and help individuals and their families adjust to the diagnosis and prepare for the future. Delays in help-seeking can compound issues, delay potential early treatment and therapy, and increase individual and family distress.
If you think you, or someone you know, have the signs and symptoms of dementia, visit a GP as soon as possible to discuss the signs and symptoms. If you don’t have a regular doctor, you can find one by searching on Health Direct.
- Read Bobby’s Story about her dementia diagnosis experience and how she has adjusted to live well with dementia.
Women as carers of people living with dementia
Women provide a substantial proportion of informal care to people with dementia, and around two thirds of primary caregivers in Australia are women. Further, the care workforce providing health and social care in the community as well as in hospitals and care homes is predominantly female.
Some women face challenges coming to terms with dementia and adapting to the caring role. It is important to seek help, and skills training if needed. Read our recent blog about new post-diagnostic support programs in Australia. Contact Dementia Australia for support and enrol in their Living with Dementia program. You can also download their Help Sheets.
Read women’s stories about caring for people with dementia
Other women’s health issues
Cardiovascular health is often overlooked in women, but heart disease is the second leading cause of death for women in Australia. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and vascular dementia. This includes:
- eating a low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar diet, with increased plant-based foods and lean protein;
- exercising for at least 30 minutes every day;
- minimising stress; and
- visiting a GP to keep track of health indicators including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, sugar levels and waist circumference.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and lose their strength. There are often no signs or symptoms, so many people only realise they have osteoporosis after experiencing a fracture. Osteoporosis particularly affects women in their middle and later years, although some men are also affected. Ask your GP to assess your risk for osteoporosis. Your GP can arrange imaging tests to measure your bone density and advise on osteoporosis prevention and management.
1 in 4 Australian adults experience incontinence, but sadly only a small proportion seek professional help. For more information, read our recent blog post on Staying in Control of your Continence.
Women should screen every two years for breast cancer and bowel cancer, and every 5 years for cervical cancer until the age of 74 years. Don’t forget regular skin-cancer screening, as Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
Health Assessments and Chronic Disease Plans
Women aged 45 to 49 years who are at risk of developing chronic disease, and all women over 75 years, can have free comprehensive health assessments with their GP and practice nurse. Depending on the outcome of these assessments, your GP can arrange a Chronic Disease Management plan.
These plans can provide up to five subsidised allied health visits every year. This can include visits to podiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, exercise physiologists and more. Your GP will coordinate and liaise with your allied health practitioner to ensure you get the support you need to better manage or lessen the impact of unwanted symptoms.