Background: With the aging of the population, dementia has become an important health concern in most countries. There is a growing body of literature on the importance of cardiovascular risk factors in the development of Alzheimer's disease (AD), vascular dementia, and mixed dementia (AD with cerebrovascular disease).
Objective: This article reviews the role of major risk factors in dementia between both sexes.
Methods: The MEDLINE, PubMed, and HealthSTAR databases were searched between 1966 and January 2007 for English-language articles on the risk factors for dementia.
Results: The distribution and prevalence of major risk factors between the sexes and age groups are varied. Female sex has been associated with increased risk of the development of AD. In women aged >75 years, rates of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes are higher than in similarly aged men. Apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 genotype status appears to have a greater deleterious effect on gross hippocampal pathology and memory performance in women compared with men. Midlife hypertension and hypercholesterolemia in both sexes predict a higher risk of developing AD in later life. Diabetes is increasing in frequency to a greater extent in women than in men, and is associated with a substantial risk for cognitive impairment. Dementia in women (probably) and in men (possibly) is influenced by obesity in the middle of life.
Conclusions: It remains critical that large prospective clinical trials be designed to assess the effect of optimum management of vascular risk factors on cognitive functioning and dementia as the primary outcome, and include women and men in numbers adequate for assessment of gender effects.