Women’s Verbal Skills May Mask Cognitive Decline

By Lola Augustine Brown

Researchers have known for some time that women are better at remembering some things than men are, and vice versa.

Typically women are better at remembering words and faces, while men have better memories for symbolic and non-linguistic information (she’ll remember that person she met at a party once, and he’ll remember the route to somewhere he’s been once). According to research published in the academic journal Neurology, women retain that facility even when they have neural dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, involved 235 people who had Alzheimer’s, 694 with mild cognitive impairment, and 379 with no problems with memory or thinking. Women performed better at verbal recall tests despite having levels of cognitive decline similar to or even greater than those of their male counterparts.

Tests for Alzheimer’s use lists of words or short stories to determine how well the brain is or isn’t functioning; if women who have experienced significant cognitive decline still perform better in tests than men with similar levels of decline, those tests are failing to detect problems among the women.

The research suggests the potential need to test men and women differently; otherwise, a woman may receive the help that she needs later than a man would at a similar stage of cognitive decline. Researchers are hoping that their findings will lead to earlier detection for women and to them getting help earlier, when it can be most effective.

Photo: Dreamstime.

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