Kristine Yaffe, MD, a Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. She is also a member of the California Governor’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness. Dr. Yaffe answered our questions about the significance on our WAM/AARP report and gives us tips on how to keep our brains strong and healthy.
WAM: WAM and AARP released “It’s Time to Act,” a new report on the state of women, Alzheimer’s and dementia. How does a report like this move the needle in the world of Alzheimer’s research?
Yaffe: The report is quite timely and comprehensive. There are so many issues that women face regarding Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This report nicely summarizes these issues and presents important next steps and action items.
There is also powerful value in that it’s inclusive and captures the work and thinking of many different researchers, experts organizations and institutions. Given the complexity of this disease, it’s going to take us all working together to beat Alzheimer’s. This report is a great touch point for that effort.
WAM: The report lays out the work of many different researchers from around the world. In looking at the totality of their research and data, where do you think the answer lies to help explain why women are proportionately impacted by Alzheimer’s? (What’s the most exciting area of research for you when it comes to women and Alzheimer’s?)
Yaffe: I think the answer is not in just one domain. There are many social and cultural factors that most likely play a role. For example, women are traditionally caretakers and this is a rewarding but often taxing role as well. Of course, there are many biological pathways that influence AD risk and these may differ for women and men. There are also different environmental factors that play a role. I think at the end of the day, all of these need to be studied in order to understand the differences for women and men and how to move the field forward.
WAM: In looking at your own work, what gives you the biggest sense of hope about women and Alzheimer’s?
Yaffe: First of all, it is essential that women be included in the conversation and that research studies include women of different ethnic/racial backgrounds. We need to understand how to promote resilience and understand the things that increase a woman’s risk for getting Alzheimer’s. We need to be able to answer why women of diverse ethnicities and income levels respond differently to the disease itself and to treatments. Then we need to empower women to take this disease on and to understand that they are affected by AD to a greater extent and they need to push the agenda for research and care forward. What’s really important now is to bring all of the players together so we can impact not just science but funding and policy.
WAM: As we head into Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, what are 3 things every woman can do for her brain health starting today?
Yaffe: The three things are: 1) understand that your brain health is precious and can be promoted. Many things can be done like being physically active, getting good sleep, taking care of heart health as that affects brain health, being socially connected, and staying engaged in learning; 2) if someone is concerned about their memory or cognition, they should try to get an evaluation and be proactive about figuring out what is going on and 3) volunteer for research.
I would also add that all women need to deal with pre-existing conditions that might add to their risk factor for Alzheimer’s, like hypertension, diabetes, or obesity. Some of these conditions are particularly prevalent among women of color, so we need to ensure that they are educated about the connection and talk to their doctors about their overall health.