In a recent study, the difficulties that many women describe as memory problems when menopause approaches are real and not “imaginary.”
The fact that menopause and memory loss symptoms are considered “real,” should not come as a surprise to the millions of women who have had bouts of forgetfulness or who describe struggles with “brain fog” in their late 40s and 50s. But the results of a recent study, by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago who gave women a rigorous battery of cognitive tests, validate their experiences and provide some clues to what is happening in the brain as women hit menopause.
what is happening in the brain as women hit menopause
“The most important thing to realize is that there really are some cognitive changes that occur during this phase in a woman’s life,” said Miriam Weber, Ph.D., the neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who led the study. “If a woman approaching menopause feels she is having memory problems, no one should brush it off or attribute it to a jam-packed schedule. She can find comfort in knowing that there are new research findings that support her experience. She can view her experience as normal.”
The study is one of only a handful to analyze in detail a woman’s brain function during menopause and to compare those findings to the woman’s own reports of memory or cognitive difficulties.
The study included 75 women, from age 40 to 60, who were approaching or beginning menopause. The women underwent a battery of cognitive tests that looked at several skills, including their abilities to learn and retain new information, to mentally manipulate new information, and to sustain their attention over time.
They were asked about menopause symptoms related to depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and sleep difficulties, and their blood levels of the hormones estradiol and follicle-stimulating hormone were measured.
Weber’s team found that the women’s complaints were linked to some types of memory deficits, but not others.
Women who had memory complaints were much more likely to do poorly in tests designed to measure what is called “working memory” – the ability to take in new information and manipulate it in their heads. Such tasks in real life might include calculating the amount of a tip after a restaurant meal, adding up a series of numbers in one’s head, or adjusting one’s itinerary on the fly after an unexpected flight change.
Scientists also found that the women’s reports of memory difficulties were associated with a lessened ability to keep and focus attention on a challenging task. That might include doing the taxes, maintaining sharp attention on the road during a long drive, completing a difficult report at work despite boredom, or getting through a particularly challenging book.(1)
older women with low estradiol levels were more likely to experience decline in global cognitive function
We published an article on Memory and Alzheimer’s in Aging Women and Bio-Identical Hormones Replacement. In that article we cited research that showed older women with low estradiol levels were more likely to experience decline in global cognitive function and verbal memory (2). Further that more recent researcher added to the evidence that bio-identical hormones offer a better choice than conjugated equine estrogen (CEE) for helping ward off memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease.(3)
Further, new research suggests that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) must be administered early to positively affect cognition. (4)
Are you thinking of Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement?
We have been treating patients with bio-identical hormones for many years. When women come to us and they tell us that they have hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia and low libido and can’t think straight and are putting on weight they are not very happy as they go into their peri-menopausal, menopausal years – the beauty about bio-identical hormone therapy is that is can be completely indivualized to each patient. We analyze each patient’s bio-chemistry on a unique basis, this may include a urine sample, it may include blood work, but the key here is to find the dose that is proper for each individual patient and adjusting them accordingly according to their symptoms and their lab work. We have seen tremendous results over the years and I want to stress that not only women, but men as come to us as well for this condition.
The first step? Make an appointment
(1) From the University of Minnesota at Rochester Press Release http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=3436
(2) Yaffe K, Barnes D, Lindquist K, Cauley J, Simonsick EM, Penninx B, Satterfield S, Harris T, Cummings SR. Endogenous sex hormone levels and risk of cognitive decline in an older biracial cohort. Neurobiol Aging. 2007 Feb;28(2):171-8.
(3) Wroolie TE, Kenna HA, Williams KE, Powers B, et al. Differences in verbal memory performance in postmenopausal women receiving hormone therapy: 17β-estradiol versus conjugated equine estrogens. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 September; 19(9): 792–802.
(4) Fonseca CS, Gusmão ID, Raslan AC, Monteiro BM, Massensini AR, Moraes MF, Pereira GS. Object recognition memory and temporal lobe activation after delayed estrogen replacement therapy. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2013 Mar;101:19-25. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2012.12.016. Epub 2013 Jan 5.