Memory Loss and Menopause

by Laura Ramirez on September 18, 2011

Memory loss and menopause: if you’re in your forties, fifties or beyond, no doubt you’ve felt it: that sinking feeling when you realize that you can’t remember what you were heading into a room for or whose number you just dialed on the phone while you’re waiting for the person on the other end to pick up the call. Are these memory lapses due to hormonal fluctuations and thus temporary or are you finally heading down the slippery slope toward dementia?

Take me for instance. I used to have a photographic memory. Looking back, I realize just how spectacular it was. I remember taking tests in college and being able to scan through the notes in my head and seeing the exact location of the information I was seeking. If I could “see it on the page,” I could recall the information verbatim.

One time, I called the phone number of someone who I had not called in over two years from memory because I could “see” it on the picture of the rolodex card that I had stored in my mind.

My short term memory was also pretty darn good. I could dial a phone number many minutes after hearing it spoken by an information operator, just by repeating it a few times to myself. These days, if I don’t write down that number immediately, it’s gone for good.

As the mother of two teenagers, I used to comfort myself because I realized that my boys couldn’t remember anything either. Heck, they couldn’t even remember what they’d eaten for breakfast most times (and they were all about food), let alone their school work or where they’d put it. If they had trouble remembering things, maybe my issues with memory were normal … maybe I wasn’t really that old. Maybe I wasn’t headed for Alzheimer’s, the very disease that slowly robbed my grandmother of her mind.

As a expert on child development and someone who understands how the brain reconstructs itself during the teenage years, wiping out entire neural networks as it builds the prefrontal cortex, I wondered if my brain was doing the opposite, deconstructing itself, stealing away my memories bit by bit and forcing me to use coping mechanisms like Becky in the article quoted below:

Becky Skovgaard always puts her keys in the same place because she doesn’t have time to hunt for them. She uses a calculator rather than doing arithmetic in her head or on paper.

She’s 57 and heading toward menopause, a time when many women report struggles with the mental gymnastics they once effortlessly performed.

“I feel like I have less new memory than I had 10 years ago,” said Skovgaard, a certified nurse midwife with the University of Rochester Midwifery Group. “But I don’t really know.”

Whether those physical changes affect a woman’s ability to focus and avoid distractions, switch gears or retrieve information at a moment’s notice is at the core of a study being conducted by Miriam Weber, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Unlike studies done in the past, this one will look at women’s memory (short term and long term) as well as cognitive acuity in women of various stages of menopause to try to determine exactly what exactly is going on.

memory loss and menopause

Memory loss and menopause can be alleviated with present-moment practices like meditation.

The key of course is not to worry. Also memory loss is one of the more troubling menopause symptoms, especially if you have dementia in your family, stress can worsen memory problems and  accelerate age-related decline, plus it drains the present moment of its joy. Instead, adapt by developing coping mechanisms that work for you. For instance, when I walk in the front door, I always put my purse and keys in exactly the same place. This way, I never have to look for them. I write everything down. I have a desktop file that organizes all my bills by their due date. If I make an appointment, I put it in my calendar immediately, rather than waiting until later. I have a program that stores all my usernames and passwords. Acting now, in the moment to help assist your recall seems to me a smart, proactive measure.

Experts claim that it is important to focus on one thing at a time, rather than multitask. Multitasking actually diminishes performance and effectiveness and causes stress because your attention is divided. Meditation can help because it trains your mind to focus on the present. It also decreases stress and boosts feelings of happiness and overall satisfaction with life.

Use creative ways to help improve your short term recall. For instance, when you are introduced to someone new, create a funny word picture in your mind to help you to memorize the person’s name. For instance, if you are introduced to a man named Bob, imagine him bobbing in the water.

What are your strategies for memory loss and menopause? How do you help yourself remember the things that are important in your life?

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