There is a clear sex and gender gap in outcomes for brain health disorders across the lifespan, with strikingly negative outcomes for women. This understanding calls for a more systematic way of approaching this issue of inequality. The “Brain Health Gap” highlights and frames inequalities in all areas across the translational spectrum from bench-to-bedside and from boardroom-to-policy and economics. Closing the Brain Health Gap will help economies create recovery and prepare our systems for future global shocks. It is a testament to the imperative of the “Brain Health Gap” that this conversation is moving beyond the inner circles of women’s convenings to more global platforms like the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the Virtual Lausanne Dialogues in May 2021, convened ahead of the World Health Assembly by the Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease (CEOi), the World Economic Forum (WEF), and the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative (DAC).
Alongside economic projections on the global prevalence and expanding burden of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the Virtual Lausanne Dialogues saw the release of a new US-centric economic study. The WHAM Report (Women’s Health Access Matters) shows that high network countries cannot afford inaction. Commissioned by a group of leading US business women and conducted by the non-profit RAND Corporation, the report was designed to study the impact of accelerating sex- and gender-based health research on women, their families, and the economy across diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, that impact women differently and differentially.
The WHAM Report found that women are 66% of the nearly 7 million people in the US with Alzheimer’s, and yet just 12% of 2019 NIH Alzheimer’s fund went to projects focused on women. Even more, the report showed the following: a) doubling the funds for women’s Alzheimer’s research pays for itself three times over; b) this 224% return on investment adds 15% more to our economy than general Alzheimer’s research; and c) adding $300 million for research on women generates $930 million in economic gains, adds back 4,000 years of life, eliminates 6,500 Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and saved 3,500 years of nursing home care and costs.
Disparities in prevalence, detection, and treatment are especially widespread and problematic in women’s brain health. The current brain health crisis—where brain health disorders span mental disorders like depression and anxiety to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease—has disproportionately affected women. From a clinical and neuroscience perspective, there is a clear sex and gender gap in outcomes for brain health disorders across the lifespan, with strikingly negative outcomes for women. For example, two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients worldwide are women. Further, US women over 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as breast cancer. In Australia, England, and Wales, dementia has become the leading cause of death for women, surpassing heart disease. Further, women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders and migraines. These are all specific risks factors to develop dementia.