Women in menopause undergo a wide variety of symptoms including memory loss, hot flashes and night sweats, and loss of libido and vaginal dryness. Often overlooked are the cognitive issues that can plague women during this period. These include short-term memory loss and a condition some women refer to as “brain fog.”
Memory loss might not be the first thing you think of when you think about menopause yet there are millions of women entering menopause every year that experience the symptoms of memory loss and the loss of other higher order brain executive functions.
It can be extremely frustrating to feel as though your memory is slipping and your ability to recall things becomes a challenge.
The Causes of Memory Loss and Brain Fog in Menopause
These changes actually begin in the perimenopausal state, when a woman still has her period but is beginning to experience the changes so typical of the cognitive dysfunction seen in menopause. The cause can be multiple and include things like adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism (a low thyroid condition), low estrogen levels, unbalanced hormones, insomnia, and stress. Some of these symptoms are treatable while others must simply be endured and coped with.
Addressing these issues is sometimes complicated. Should you replace the estrogen not made any longer by the ovaries in order to give the brain a boost? Or maybe consider a stimulant medication, such as those used in the treatment of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)? Deciding whether or not to treat these issues is often difficult for many women.
Low estrogen levels have a direct relationship between dopamine, GABA, and serotonin—brain chemicals we need to keep our memory and cognitive function operating at peak condition.
When the estrogen levels become too low, the neurotransmitters go out of balance. This can lead to mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, along with an inability to remember things or to think clearly (brain fog).
Memory loss can also be compounded by stress and insomnia, which are two common perimenopausal symptoms. Other issues that might occur around the time of menopause include thyroid dysfunction and adrenal fatigue. These can also interfere with cognitive function, and lead to memory loss and brain fog.
All of this can be very overwhelming, as there seems to be so many symptoms occurring all at the same time. You need to know that these are not considered a normal part of the aging process and can be managed by replacing the missing hormones, taking antidepressants, or by taking stimulants that make the brain work faster so you think clearer. These type decisions need to made in consultation with a medical professional.
The choice of medication depends on your personal preference and on the preference of your doctor. You need to weigh the risks and benefits of whatever treatment you choose, even if you decide to do nothing to control the symptoms.
The Results of a Study
A study published in the academic journal, Menopause looked into the fact that many of the cognitive deficiencies begin when a woman is in her 40s and 50s, peaking around the time that menopause actually begins. It actually gets better on its own after a woman has undergone the menopausal transition.
Women with brain fog due to memory loss often complain that they are no longer able to do routine memory tasks and have difficulty keeping track of information. They need to write down things more often so they don’t lose track of what they were doing or where they need to go on any given day.
The study indicated that brain fog is a real phenomenon that is most evident in the first year after a woman stops menstruating.
The study looked at 117 women who were of menopausal age and who took part in the completion of a variety of examinations looking at their ability to retain new information, maintain their attention, and their ability to learn new information and manipulate what they have learned.
The women also were given surveys that charted their other menopausal symptoms, including insomnia, hot flashes, depression, and night sweats. The hormone levels in the participant’s blood were also looked at.
They discovered that women in the early stage of post-menopause, which would be the first year after the stoppage of menses, was the time when measures of fine motor skills, verbal memory, and verbal learning were at their worst. The problems weren’t related to depression or to sleeping problems.
The findings suggest that the menopause-related cognitive deficits are independent from things like depression and insomnia. It is possible that hormonal fluctuations are the underlying factor that plays a role in a woman having symptoms of decline rather than the absolute value of the hormone levels themselves.
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