Today, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) at Cleveland Clinic released the results of a comprehensive survey on the state of women’s health, revealing that American women are largely unaware of crucial and pressing health issues that can impact their lives and long-term health.
Some of the more startling facts include that 82% of women do not know they are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, though two-thirds of cases are women. Also, the majority of women have not spoken with their healthcare providers about several critical areas of health that can put them at risk for the disease.
An alarming 73% of women have not discussed their cognitive health with providers, and 62% of women have not discussed menopause or perimenopause — transitional phases in a woman’s reproductive life — that research now shows are critical to monitor closely in order to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.
The findings will be presented by Maria Shriver, founder of WAM, and strategic partner for women’s health and Alzheimer’s at Cleveland Clinic, and Beri Ridgeway, M.D., Cleveland Clinic’s chief of staff, at the Aspen Ideas: Health Festival on Friday, June 24, and give a glimpse into the status of women’s health in the U.S. and factors that contribute to the growing instances of Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that a majority of women (71%) in the survey said they had seen a doctor in the past year, with 58% of women ranking their health as generally good. At the same time, 56% report not getting enough sleep, 35% say they almost always or often wake up in physical pain, and two in five women have been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety, depression and insomnia.
“The fact that women experience high levels of depression, anxiety and insomnia, but report being unaware that these are often symptoms of menopause means women may be going to the doctor, but not necessarily having the right conversations,” said Shriver. “The survey results are both a red flag about the state of women’s health, but also an exciting opportunity to redirect the way that both healthcare providers and women think, talk and act on issues involving women’s health—at every age and every stage of a woman’s health span. Women want the information and it’s incumbent on us all to get it to them.”
Of the women who reported their physical health as being poor, 32% cited chronic conditions as the cause. Among those who categorized their mental health as poor, most cited depression (33%) and anxiety (30%) as the issue. Low physical activity, chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and depression are all associated with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Only 12% of women in this survey reported knowing about a possible link between estrogen loss and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, a major area of interest and research funded by WAM at Cleveland Clinic.
Over half of the women surveyed report caring for others, with 43% of them saying they focus on other people’s health over their own. Single mothers report the lowest quality of sleep and the highest percentage when it comes to women rating their health as poor or fair (69%.)
These numbers are important to the study of women’s health, since many of the health factors affecting women can be adjusted if women are made aware of this empowering health information. Science now suggests that 40% of Alzheimer’s disease cases could be prevented through healthy lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise.
One positive survey finding revealed that when educated on lifestyle factors, women are highly motivated to prioritize them to reduce their risk:
- 82% would stay mentally/intellectually active
- 71% maintain a healthy weight
- 70% stay socially active
- 70% eat a healthy diet
- 67% manage stress
- 67% get better sleep
- 66% exercise regularly
- 62% quit smoking
“We know that women’s unique biology and experiences over the course of their lifetime do play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and this survey illustrates the need to inform women of this link and empower them to start having conversations with their providers now so they can prioritize their brain health and improve overall health outcomes,” said Dr. Ridgeway. “Cleveland Clinic officially partnered with WAM in February to do that through research, education and advocacy. This is another reminder of the importance of our work together as WAM at Cleveland Clinic.”