Memory and Menopause: Is There a Connection?

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Many women report feeling more absentminded, forgetful and just not being there – able to listen, but not always to attend – because they’re experiencing a transient loss of awareness during their menopausal years. Some women experience blank outs: forgetting how to do things, forgetting names, and are not even able to find the words to express their intended ideas.

To make matters worse, some women hold onto beliefs that as a result of aging, memory deficits are uncontrollable and inevitable. This myth sets women up to lowered expectations about improving their memory. However, what many people don’t know, is that memory can improve by just using it.

Naturally occurring estrogen is thought to help keep brain cells healthy, but it drops during menopause. As a result, for many years researchers assumed that declining levels of estrogen affect healthy brain function and therefore might explain the forgetfulness so many menopausal women complain about.

However, according to studies completed on the subject, the complaints about failing memory during menopause, may be more illusion than reality. Results of the studies (published in 2003) show that menopausal women demonstrated no signs of mental decline and that their scores on memory tests improved over the time they participated in the study.

Researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago recruited 803 white and black women, ages 42 to 52, most of whom hadn’t yet stopped menstruating completely. None of the participants took hormone replacement therapy. Once a year for almost six years, the researchers gave the women memory tests that involved repeating long strings of numbers backward and quickly identifying pairs of symbols and digits. The researchers expected to see scores drop as the women got older, but instead all the scores rose. On one of the memory tests, scores rose by an average of three percent.

In light of their results, the research team speculated that any memory problems menopausal women encounter may be due less to hormonal changes and more to stress, such as that of dealing with adolescent children, aging parents, and the conflicting responsibilities of home and work. So, if you’re menopausal and are forgetful sometimes, it is probably not because of any harmful hormonal changes in the brain, but most likely because you are busy, distracted and stressed-out dealing with the ordinary pressures of midlife. Loss of sleep due to hot flashes, as well as stress, can also contribute to an inability to concentrate or remember.

Women do have an option, to do nothing or discuss with your healthcare providers the role of hormone therapy and memory; non-hormonal forms of treatment and or behaviors. It is important to explore all forms of treatment.

However, if you are concerned about your memory, following are some helpful hints to help keep a sharp mind:

  • Learn stress management techniques – meditate and/or utilize other relaxation techniques
  • Talk with your doctor if poor sleep is a constant problem
  • Incorporate foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (including salmon, sardines, flax seeds and soy) and anthocyanin pigments (blueberries are the best source)
  • Recent research indicates that the yellow spice turmeric may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Avoid drinking large quantities of any beverage late at night to reduce the need of getting up to go to the bathroom and disrupt your sleep
  • Take a good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement
  • Aerobic exercise on a regular basis
  • Challenge yourself with new learning: read, do puzzles and/or discuss current events
  • Become better organized and more methodical – write things down
  • Two books to consider: Seibel MM, Kaur HK. A Woman’s Book of Yoga. Penguin Putnam. 2002 and Seibel MM. The Soy Solution for Menopause. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2003.
  • Garner social support – attend Red Hot Mamas Menopause Management Programs