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Duke Studying If Estrogen Lowers Alzheimer's Risk

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CAMERON, N.C. — Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of memory loss. Women are twice as likely to develop the disease than men.

Women with a family history of the disease are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at Duke are trying to find out how hormones may help protect women from this disease.

Alzheimer's disease is almost always on Judy Loving's mind. Several people in her family have it, and now, at age 60, the retired schoolteacher is worried she may develop it too.

"Everybody is forgetful at things. I've never been good at names," she said.

Loving designs glass artwork to keep her mind active. However, something else she is doing could be working in her favor.

Loving has been taking estrogen since menopause. The hormone replacement therapy may actually protect her from the memory-robbing disease.

"We don't think it completely prevents it. We think it delays it, delays it substantially," said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a Duke psychiatrist.

Doraiswamy is currently studying women age 65 and older who are taking estrogen and have a family history of Alzheimer's disease.

His research shows that postmenopausal women who take estrogen have a 50 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Learning how to use estrogen to delay the disease would help millions of women.

"If you can postpone Alzheimer's by even five years you can cut the number of people who will develop Alzheimer's by almost 30 to 40 percent," Doraiswamy said.

Loving hopes the estrogen she takes is helping her avoid the disease she has watched her family live with. She also wants to break cycle of Alzheimer's disease for the rest of her family.

Duke is looking for women to take part in the study. To be eligible:

  • Participants must have a first-degree relative -- a mother, sister or brother with Alzheimer's disease.
  • The participant's memory must be normal and the person cannot be on estrogen.
  • For more information on the study call call (877) 335-2923.


    Ken Bodine, Photographer
    Andrea Moody, Producer
    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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