March 17, 2012
Research Confirms Menopause Causes Memory Problems
Millions of women going through menopause have complained about forgetfulness or described having "brain fog" in their late 40s and 50s.
In a new study, researchers gave women various cognitive tests to validate their experiences and provide some clues to what is happening in the brain as menopause hit.
“The most important thing to realize is that there really are some cognitive changes that occur during this phase in a woman´s life,” Dr. Miriam Weber, a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who led the study, said in a recent statement.
“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 researchers studied 75 women from age 40 to 60 who were approaching or beginning menopause. The women underwent various cognitive tests that looked at several skills, including their abilities to learn and retain new information.
They were asked about menopause symptoms related to depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and sleep difficulties.
The team also checked their blood levels of the hormones estradiol and follicle-stimulating hormone.
The researchers found that the women's complaints were linked to some types of memory deficits, but not others.
According to the study, those women who had memory complaints were more likely to do poorly in tests designed to measure "working memory", which is the ability to take in new information and manipulate it in their heads.
Tasks in working memory include things like being able to calculate the amount of a tip, adding up a series of numbers, or adjusting an itinerary on the fly.
The team also found that women's reports of memory difficulties were associated with a lessened ability to keep focus on a challenging task like doing taxes or driving in a long road trip.
The women in the study were more highly educated and on average of higher intelligence than the general population, according to Weber.
The study said that anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of women during menopause report forgetfulness and other difficulties.
“If you speak with middle-aged women, many will say, yes, we´ve known this. We´ve experienced this,” Weber said in a press release. “But it hasn´t been investigated thoroughly in the scientific literature.
“Science is finally catching up to the reality that women don´t suddenly go from their reproductive prime to becoming infertile. There is this whole transition period that lasts years. It´s more complicated than people have realized.”