The Brain Health Gap and How It is Hurting Women

Data reveals how women suffer disparities in health funding, especially related to brain disorders. As a result, funding for women’s brain health is alarmingly insufficient and contributing to expensive long-term treatment costs.

Women have been coming out and speaking against the inequities they face in health care. For years, women have been saying that the healthcare field has not had their best interests at heart. They frequently have expressed that the medical community has treated them with dismissal and misdiagnosis. 

WHAM’s research shows a deep disparity in funding for women’s brain health. (Image credit: WHAM)

New data reveals this to be especially poignant in terms of women dealing with brain health disorders. An organization by the name of WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters), released a report about this data. 

More Women Have Brain Health Issues, Particularly Alzheimers

The WHAM report found that women make up a shockingly large number of those in the U.S with Alzheimers. Of the nearly 7 million people who have the disease, women make up 66% of that total. The number is large, and yet only 12% of the NIH Alzheimer’s fund went to projects involving women. 

The WHAM Brain Health report helps to identify ways that failing to use a gender lens results in women’s brain health being funded less than men’s brain health. (Image Credit: WHAM)

Worldwide, women make up two thirds of Alzheimer’s patients.

Currently, researchers report that the world faces a brain health crisis. This includes both neurological conditions like Alzheimers and dementia, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. All of these issues disproportionately affect women, and women are not receiving the aid that they need. 

Women are more likely than men to incur health issues that act as risk factors in developing dementia. In particular, women experience strokes at higher rates than men. They are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders or migraines. These have all been found to have a significant correlation with dementia. 

Research Gap Severs Women from Life-saving Knowledge

To make matters worse, there is little to no research available about the female-specific symptoms that these brain health issues create. The research that does exist is scarce, filled with misinformation and data gaps. Generally, it upholds the belief that men and women are almost the same, with the only major difference being sex organs. 

 A major factor that contributed to this gap in knowledge was the period of time between 1977 to 1993 where women who were able to have children were banned from cell, animal, and human clinical studies. 

During this time, a myth persisted that female hormones made female subjects expensive and difficult to study. WHAM has more than disproven this myth with their research.

They found that doubling the funds allocated to women-specific Alzheimer’s research pays for itself three times over. This investment also adds 15% more to our economy than the general research on Alzheimer’s has done. 

Not only this, but WHAM estimates that adding $300 million to Alzheimer studies on women would generate $930 million in economic gains. In addition, it would eliminate 6,500 cases of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, while saving around 3,500 years of nursing home care and costs. 

New Initiative Seeks to Remedy the Brain Health Research Gap

Considering all this, it goes without saying that more research and attention should be paid to women suffering from brain health conditions. Like most things, this issue is exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 on the health field.

This issue can be addressed on more than just the medical level, however. It also requires effort on the social, political, policy and diplomatic level. 

The OECD is working on a Neuroscience-Inspired Policy Initiative to address this issue. Their plan is for this initiative to bring in stakeholders who will be supporting research projects, economic modeling, seminars and policy analysis and recommendation. 

Supporting and calling attention to this issue are important actions that gender-lens organizations can take, particularly organizations in the health and science fields. Supporting this new research will help produce more accurate scientific data on women’s brain health for the future. As the OECD is currently in the process of working their plan out and implementing it, now is one of the vital times for health-focused women donors and activists to support this endeavor.


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Author: Kimberly Pike

Kimberly Pike is a writer, artist and self proclaimed cat lady living in Rhode Island. She is passionately writing about women's issues and helping to teach others about it.

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