Context: Previous studies have shown a sex-specific increased risk of Alzheimer disease (AD) in women older than 80 years. Basic neuroscience findings suggest that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could reduce a woman's risk of AD. Epidemiologic findings on AD and HRT are mixed.
Objective: To examine the relationship between use of HRT and risk of AD among elderly women.
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective study of incident dementia among 1357 men (mean age, 73.2 years) and 1889 women (mean age, 74.5 years) residing in a single county in Utah. Participants were first assessed in 1995-1997, with follow-up conducted in 1998-2000. History of women's current and former use of HRT, as well as of calcium and multivitamin supplements, was ascertained at the initial contact.
Main outcome measure: Diagnosis of incident AD.
Results: Thirty-five men (2.6%) and 88 women (4.7%) developed AD between the initial interview and time of the follow-up (3 years). Incidence among women increased after age 80 years and exceeded the risk among men of similar age (adjusted hazard ratio [HR], 2.11; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.22-3.86). Women who used HRT had a reduced risk of AD (26 cases among 1066 women) compared with non-HRT users (58 cases among 800 women) (adjusted HR, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.36-0.96). Risk varied with duration of HRT use, so that a woman's sex-specific increase in risk disappeared entirely with more than 10 years of treatment (7 cases among 427 women). Adjusted HRs were 0.41 (95% CI, 0.17-0.86) for HRT users compared with nonusers and 0.77 (95% CI, 0.31-1.67) compared with men. No similar effect was seen with calcium or multivitamin use. Almost all of the HRT-related reduction in incidence reflected former use of HRT (9 cases among 490 women; adjusted HR, 0.33 [95% CI, 0.15-0.65]). There was no effect with current HRT use (17 cases among 576 women; adjusted HR, 1.08 [95% CI, 0.59-1.91]) unless duration of treatment exceeded 10 years (6 cases among 344 women; adjusted HR, 0.55 [95% CI, 0.21-1.23]).
Conclusions: Prior HRT use is associated with reduced risk of AD, but there is no apparent benefit with current HRT use unless such use has exceeded 10 years.