Memory Loss More Common in Men?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

There is much press this week about a study published in Neurology that measured the incidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in an aging population.

MCI is a subtle loss of thinking ability, such as impaired memory or judgment, that is not severe enough to interfere with the person's normal activities of living.  The study showed about a 20% incidence rate which is squarely in line with previous estimates.

The press has been largely focused on the fact that, in this study, men between the ages of 70 and 89 years had a higher incidence of MCI than women of the same age.  This is probably true.  It is also probably easy to explain.

MCI is not a disease, it is merely a descriptor term for a certain level of cognitive impairment.  It refers to the degree of impairment that falls between normal cognition and the severe loss of function that we call dementia.  Asking "why" a person has MCI is a whole different question with a host of common answers including depression, thyroid disease, stroke, sleep disorder, Alzheimer's disease, and anxiety, to name just a few.  

The question of "why" a person has MCI was not adressed in this study, but may shed some important light on the observed gender differences.  For example, sleep disorders and certain cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension and stroke, are common causes of MCI and are somewhat more prevalent among men than women.  Clearly, conditions that impair memory and are also more common in men, could fully explain the observed gender differences in this study.  In that respect, these results are hardly surprising and, in fact, make perfect sense.

It would be truly worthy of a media frenzy if researchers controlled for each cause of MCI and still found that one gender was more susceptible than the other.  But despite many misleading headlines, that was not the case in this study.

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