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Sex Differences in Cognition Across Aging

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Sex Differences in Brain Function and Dysfunction

Abstract

Sex and gender differences are seen in cognitive disturbances in a variety of neurological and psychiatry diseases. Men are more likely to have cognitive symptoms in schizophrenia whereas women are more likely to have more severe cognitive symptoms with major depressive disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, it is important to understand sex and gender differences in underlying cognitive abilities with and without disease. Sex differences are noted in performance across various cognitive domains – with males typically outperforming females in spatial tasks and females typically outperforming males in verbal tasks. Furthermore, there are striking sex differences in brain networks that are activated during cognitive tasks and in learning strategies. Although rarely studied, there are also sex differences in the trajectory of cognitive aging. It is important to pay attention to these sex differences as they inform researchers of potential differences in resilience to age-related cognitive decline and underlying mechanisms for both healthy and pathological cognitive aging, depending on sex. We review literature on the progressive neurodegenerative disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, as an example of pathological cognitive aging in which human females show greater lifetime risk, neuropathology, and cognitive impairment, compared to human males. Not surprisingly, the relationships between sex and cognition, cognitive aging, and Alzheimer’s disease are nuanced and multifaceted. As such, this chapter will end with a discussion of lifestyle factors, like education and diet, as modifiable factors that can alter cognitive aging by sex. Understanding how cognition changes across age and contributing factors, like sex differences, will be essential to improving care for older adults.

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Lee, B.H., Richard, J.E., de Leon, R.G., Yagi, S., Galea, L.A.M. (2022). Sex Differences in Cognition Across Aging. In: Gibson, C., Galea, L.A.M. (eds) Sex Differences in Brain Function and Dysfunction. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, vol 62. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2022_309

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