Alzheimers is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a progressive disease that causes severe memory loss and destroys other important mental functions. During the late stages of this degenerative disease, brain cell connections die along with the cells themselves, leading to confusion and significant memory problems. Unfortunately, no cure exists, but more research is being done to better understand this disease.

Nearly two-thirds of all the Alzheimers patients in the U.S. are women. According to Science Daily, menopause causes metabolic changes in the brain that might end up increasing the risk of Alzheimers disease.

The findings, published in PLoS One by a team from University of Arizona Health Sciences and Weill Cornell Medicine, could help provide necessary research to fight back against this debilitating mental disease.

“This study suggests there may be a critical window of opportunity, when women are in their 40s and 50s, to detect metabolic signs of higher Alzheimer’s risk and apply strategies to reduce that risk,” said Dr. Lisa Mosconi, lead author and associate professor of neuroscience in neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

During the study, Dr. Mosconi and the rest of the team used the imaging test positron emission tomography (PET) to determine the amount of glucose in the brains of 43 healthy women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. Of those tested, 15 were premenopausal, 14 were transitioning to menopause, and 14 were menopausal.

“Our findings show that the loss of estrogen in menopause doesn’t just diminish fertility,” Dr. Mosconi added. “It also means the loss of a key neuroprotective element in the female brain and a higher vulnerability to brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. We urgently need to address these problems because, currently, 850 million women worldwide are entering or have entered menopause. Our studies demonstrate that women need medical attention in their 40s, well in advance of any endocrine or neurological symptoms.”

More research is needed to find a stronger connection between estrogen levels, Alzheimers, and women of all ages, but this study is certainly a good start. Luckily there are high-quality nursing homes around the country that focus on memory care and can help struggling elders battle these conditions.

“We really need to follow larger groups of women over long periods to see how this menopausal change in metabolism relates to Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Mosconi said.