Gender differences in memory: Does brain function tell a different story?

By Sivaniya Subramaniapillai / 2020-01-27

Aging is often associated with memory loss for personal events and their rich contextual detail (known as episodic memory). Episodic memory is the type of memory that allows you to remember where you parked your car in a mall parking lot, or whether or not you took your medication earlier in the day. It is also intricately involved with your personal identity, enables you to learn from past experiences, and helps you plan for your future.

There is some evidence that women and men differ in some episodic memory abilities. For example, women, on average, tend to perform better on episodic memory tasks involving verbal processing whereas men tend to perform better on episodic memory tasks involving visuospatial processing. However, there remains debate as to whether these differences reflect biological sex effects on brain function and/or gender effects related to environmental or societal experiences leading to the use of different strategies.

Moreover, an interesting and unsolved question is whether men and women differ in their typical neurocognitive patterns of age-related memory decline. This is an important question to ask because understanding the similarities and differences in the effect of sex on age-related memory decline can be critical in providing important insight as to why there are sex differences in the prevalence of specific age-related neurodegenerative disorders that negatively impact episodic memory. For example, the lifetime risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is twice as high in women as in men.

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