Doctors may be not be diagnosing women as early as men with brain problems associated with early signs of dementia because of how well women typically perform on simple memory tests, a study published Wednesday suggests.
Women generally perform better on verbal memory tests, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology. So when these common tests are used to diagnose mild cognitive impairment, women may be under-diagnosed or diagnosed too late while men may be over-diagnosed or diagnosed too early, the study found.
“If women are inaccurately identified as having no problems with memory and thinking skills when they actually have mild cognitive impairment, then treatments are not being started and they and their families are not planning ahead for their care or their financial or legal situations,” study author Erin E. Sundermann of the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement.
“For men who are inaccurately diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, they can be exposed to unneeded medications along with undue stress for them and their families,” she added.
Mild cognitive impairment is “the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It is often associated with problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment.
The study found that when adjusting for differences in sex, 10% more women were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment compared to when averages for both men and women were used. Additionally, 10% fewer men were diagnosed with the adjusted averages, the study says.