Reproductive history may affect dementia risk

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Research reported this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago highlighted results of the largest epidemiological study to date of women’s reproductive history and dementia.


During a poster presentation, principal investigator Rachel Whitmer, a UC Davis Health professor of public health sciences, showed correlations between dementia and number of children, number of miscarriages, age at the time of first menstrual period, age at the start of natural menopause and total reproductive years.

“Our work shows that reproductive events that signal different exposures to estrogen may play a role in modulating dementia risk,” said Whitmer, who began the study while at Kaiser Division of Research and will continue it in her current role at UC Davis. “The story of estrogen and the brain is just beginning. More research is needed to determine the mechanistic pathway between reproductive events and brain health.”

Whitmer and her team evaluated self-reported information on reproductive health and dementia diagnoses for nearly 15,000 women throughout the U.S. from their middle ages in the 1960s and 1970s through 2017.

The researchers found that a dementia diagnosis was associated with:

  • Having one versus three or more children
  • Miscarriages, with each miscarriage increasing risk
  • Beginning menstruation at age 16 or older
  • Starting menopause at age 45 or younger
  • Having a shorter total reproductive timespan — 21 to 30 years

Gender and dementia is a growing research interest for the Alzheimer’s Association, since nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

“More research is needed in this area, because having a better understanding of sex-specific risk factors across the lifespan may help us discover — and eventually apply — specific prevention strategies for different populations of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” said Maria Carillo, chief science officer for the association.

Whitmer’s study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (grant number RF1AG052132).

More information on UC Davis Health and its Department of Public Health Sciences is at

More information on the Alzheimer’s Association is at




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