HealthDay News — Early diagnosis of Alzheimer disease in women may be more difficult than in men because older women tend to retain better verbal memory, according to a study published online in Neurology.

The research involved 1 316 people averaging 73 years of age. Two hundred fifty-four of them had Alzheimer disease, 672 had mild cognitive impairment, and 390 of the participants had no cognitive or memory issues. All took verbal memory tests where they were given 15 words and then asked to recall them, both immediately after and a half-hour later. The researchers also took positron emission tomography brain scans of each participant.

The investigators found that women tended to have better verbal memory skills than men, despite similar levels of brain hypometabolism.

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“These results suggest that women are better able to compensate for underlying changes in the brain with their ‘cognitive reserve’ until the disease reaches a more advanced stage,” study author Erin Sundermann, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, said in a journal news release. “If these results are confirmed, adjusting memory tests to account for the differences between men and women may help diagnose Alzheimer disease earlier in women.” The research was conducted while Sundermann was at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

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Sundermann EE, Maki PM, Rubin LH, et al. Female advantage in verbal memory: evidence of sex-specific cognitive reserve. Neurology. 2016. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003288. [Epub ahead of print]