Menopause Symptoms: Memory Loss – Are You Really Losing Your Mind?

by Laura Ramirez on November 16, 2011

Menopause symptoms: memory loss … is it real or imagined? Do our memories really fail drastically as we age? I often wondered about this because as a menopausal woman who is raising two teenage boys, I would often chide myself for forgetting this or that, but I also noticed that my teenage boys could barely remember what they’d had for breakfast a few hours after they ate it. Of course, you could tease me here and say that maybe the problem is that my breakfasts are just not that memorable, but my boys also couldn’t remember other things that I knew were important to them, like where they’d put that twenty bucks I had just given them or where they’d left their driver’s license.

Since many menopausal women complain of memory loss, let’s take a closer look at it. While women in their fifties and sixties worry a lot that their memories are slipping, scientist discovered that their memories were just about as good as women who did not complain at all (and therefore seemed to think that this was not a pressing problem). According to scientists, the explanation for this is that the women who complain are working harder to keep their memories working (called cognitive compensation) probably due to pressing fears about sliding down that slippery slope into the depths of memory hell also known as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In an article that appeared in the LA Times on menopause symptoms, memory loss and women’s beliefs about their ability to remember important information, author Melissa Healy summarizes the results of a recent study:

Compared with the 10 women who did not complain of mental slippage, the 12 complainers — true to form — showed no difference in their performance on short-term memory tasks. But their subjective experience of losing it was not baseless: To keep up, their brains showed far more exertion, on average, in parts of the brain that govern and support short-term memory. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex of a “cognitive complainer,” on average, was working overtime to perform as well as her unaffected peers.

The study, presented Sunday at the Society for Neuroscience’s yearly confab — held this year in Washington, D.C. — recruited 22 healthy women with an average age of 57, all post-menopausal. A battery of tests identified 12 as “cognitive complainers” — meaning, they believed that in recent years, their memories had begun to slip. All the women were put in a brain scanner — a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner — that tracks activity in the brain in response to a task. The women then were given tasks that tested their working memory (sometimes called short-term memory) — the ability to hold at least a few items in mind for less than a minute and to return to them, often after a distraction.

Odds are, said Julie Dumas, the University of Vermont neuroscientist presenting the study, that some of these cognitive complainers might go on to develop more serious intellectual deficits — either mild cognitive impairment or dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In studies of older populations of cognitive complainers — average age, 67– 50% of people who reported a subjective experience of intellectual slippage went on to develop dementia versus 15% of those who didn’t have such complaints.

Los Angeles Times

So the question is: do the women who worry about and compensate for perceived memory loss do so because they have a sense of what is coming down the pike? Current research suggest that the answer may be yes. Apparently, memory decline begins years before we begin to notice the symptoms.

menopause symptoms memory loss

Menopause symptoms: memory loss may be curtailed by short term use of estrogen.

But the answer to the question about whether hormonal decline, menopause symptoms & memory loss are all related is still a mystery. Still, a number of recent studies have found that supplementing with estrogen during the early menopausal years or taking HRT does increase brain matter which in turn affects recall and cognition. These increases were noted in the prefrontal cortex and temporal and parietal lobes which control attention, short term memory and episodic memory in addition to other important functions.

While hormone replacement therapy does have its risks, today’s doctors are recommending it only for the period of time needed to treat menopause symptoms. Memory loss during this period may be curtailed with the use of estrogen as well as other bothersome symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and the like. Building gray matter at a time when most women are losing it may be the prescription for brain health throughout the second phase of life.

What do you think? Have you been taking HRT or using an over-the-counter estrogen cream (such as Source Naturals Phyto-Estrogen Cream, 4 oz) and noticed a boost in your memory? If so, please leave your comments.

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