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Why Focusing Alzheimer’s Research on Women Improves the Economy

March is International Women’s month. For those of us focused on advancing innovative technologies that bring hope and help to families battling dementia, we remember that Alzheimer’s disease impacts women more than men. Women are more likely to develop the disease and women are more likely to provide unpaid care for individuals experiencing dementia.

One of the major challenges facing the cure for Alzheimer’s disease is that science takes time. A promising new report from Women’s Health Access Matters (WHAM) shows that doubling the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) funding for women-focused Alzheimer’s research would yield huge returns. Their thesis shows that investing $300 million for women’s Alzhiemer’s disease research adds back $930 million to our economy.

Although women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease as men, women have been underrepresented in health research. Just 12% of the NIH’s budget for Alzheimer’s disease is focused on women. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of research with innovative solutions for Alzheimer’s disease—including clinical trials, device development, and diagnostics—were conducted on men. That means our knowledge about women’s health relating to dementia has been limited.

Another major obstacle is the caregiving economy. Alzheimer’s disease is not just a global health crisis, it is also an economic disaster in the works. There are nearly 17M people in the US providing care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. The majority of the people providing unpaid care are women. 19% of those women have had to quit their jobs due to caregiving responsibilities. Annually, that means about 2 million women are forced out of the workplace. 

The WHAM research shows that shifting research dollars to focus on women means that every dollar invested generates $3.24 in economic value and saves $1.24 in direct healthcare costs. Perhaps more importantly, their modeling shows that funding for women’s health research also yields a positive impact on health improvements, life status, and health costs.

Resource: Baird MD, MA Zaber, AW Dick, CE Bird, A Chen, M Waymouth, G Gahlon, DD. Quigley, H Al-Ibrahim, and L Frank. Societal Impact of Research Funding for Women's Health in Alzheimer's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease–Related Dementias. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2021. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA708-1.html.

As families prepare to emerge from the pandemic, people are demanding new, innovative solutions to care for one another. Advances in research and emerging new technologies are here now and it’s encouraging to know that there’s more to come.