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Report: Women At Higher Risk Of Developing Alzheimer’s

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Amy Osler is trim, physically fit, and positively glows with good health… all while dying the slow mental death that is Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in September of last year at 50 years old.

“There’s no cure. So, you’re faced with this ‘are you kidding me? I’ve got these wonderful kids. I’ve got this wonderful husband. Now what? What do I do?’”

Osler and her husband Greg immediately began learning all they could. But, they also had to tell their children—11-year-old Gregory, and 15-year-old Mindy about their mom’s diagnosis.

“Mommy has a disease in her brain and it’s fatal. There’s no cure. And that’s a really hard thing to say to your children.”

Osler’s case is rare. But, new research from the Alzheimer’s Association says a woman’s risk of developing the disease after age 65 is roughly twice that of men. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report released Wednesday, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man.

“It was alarming,” says Diane Kerwin, MD. Dr. Kerwin , Chief of Geriatrics at Texas Health Resources, also serves on the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Dallas board. She says researchers have long suspected that there were gender differences in who succumbs to Alzheimer’s, but did not expect the difference to be nearly two-fold. She says researchers don’t yet know why women are at a greater risk, but are exploring risk factors such as body weight, hormonal differences tied to menopause, and the stress of caregiving.

“People that have depression and anxiety throughout their life also can have some cognitive changes that might increase their risk,” says Dr. Kerwin. “So for women, as well as caregivers, is just that caregiving role increasing their risk? We think there may be a factor there, as well.”

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Experts say while researchers work to pinpoint what causes Alzheimer’s, they know that maintaining a healthy weight, social interactions and anything that continues to exercise the brain could help stave off the disease. “Learn something new,” says Dr. Kerwin. “Pick up an old hobby. Keep stimulating the brain.”

As for Osler, she admits that she is still grieving, and even initially declined to be interviewed for this story.

“I cried and called Greg and said, ‘I don’t think I can do it.’ And then, the more I thought about it, decided maybe this is what God intended for me.”

Now, with her family’s blessing, Osler is no longer keeping quiet about the life altering diagnosis and has decided to share her story in the hope of encouraging others. “I don’t want to just sit here and say ‘I’m sick. I have a disease.’ I want to be proactive. Am I as sharp as I used to be? Probably not.”

But, that’s okay. Because for now, the family still has ‘normal.’

“God is with us and I know he will take care of me and I’m in his will and whatever he has for me. That’s my job to do that.”

Clearly, Osler is also refusing to let pity steal a single moment of the memories she’s still making.

“They know what could lie ahead,” says Osler. “In the meantime, I’m taking my kids to school and I’m picking them up, and I’m going to lacrosse and I’m going to basketball and I’m going to tennis, and that’s my world. I trust that I am in his will. Whatever that might be.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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