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Memory Problems During Menopause are Real, Study Confirms

Memory problems during menopause are real

If you are a woman who is going through menopause and you’re having memory problems, you’re not crazy—those bouts of forgetfulness and “brain fog” episodes are real, according to a study in the journal Menopause. Even though memory problems during menopause may be normal, there are ways to deal with them.

Memory problems can be frightening

When forgetfulness hits women in their forties and fifties, the experience can be frightening, confusing, and disruptive. Suddenly it can seem like they can’t remember the right words or finish a sentence, they forget where they parked their car, and their mind goes blank when introducing an old friend.

Up to two-thirds of women during this stage of life experience these types of memory glitches. And it doesn’t help or ease their worries when other people in their lives, including the medical community, dismiss their problems and concerns.

Results of a new study have now validated the memory problems and cognitive changes that occur in many women during menopause. The words of the study’s leader, Miriam Weber, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), can be reassuring for millions of women, as she explained that “If a woman approaching menopause feels she is having memory problems…she can find comfort in knowing that there are new research findings that support her experience. She can view her experience as normal.”

The investigative team from URMC and the University of Illinois at Chicago utilized a battery of cognitive tests to evaluate 75 women (age 40 -60) who were approaching or starting menopause. Along with the tests, the women revealed information about their menopause symptoms, and blood levels of estradiol and follicle-stimulating hormone were measured.

Here’s how the women’s complaints were associated with their memory problems. For example, women who said they had memory problems were much more likely to:

  • Have difficulty absorbing new information and manipulating it, such as adjusting their daily schedule after meeting times are changed at the last minute.
  • Have trouble maintaining focus on challenging tasks, such as following the logic of difficult instructions or doing their taxes
  • Experience depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

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However, the women did not demonstrate problems with remembering things like what they needed to pick up at the grocery store. The investigators also did not observe any relationship between the women’s memory problems and hormone levels.

In an earlier study conducted by Weber and a colleague, Mark Mapstone, PhD, 24 women aged 40 to 60 who were approaching menopause underwent tests of memory, mood, cognitive skills, and estradiol levels. The investigators found that while the women’s memories were mostly unaffected regardless of their hormone levels, women who had signs of depression or anxiety performed less well on tests of mental skills, and they had lower estradiol levels than did women who were not depressed or anxious.

Coping with memory problems during menopause
Women and employers might take note of another new study just published in Maturitas. The study examined the relationship between the menopause transition and work among older women in the workforce and the factors that affect how women cope.

The participants were 131 middle-aged women who were part of the medical teaching staff at Zagazig Faculty of Medicine. Information from questionnaires and interviews revealed the women scored high on depressed mood, memory and concentration problems, and sleep difficulties. Of special interest was the women’s report that poor working environment and work policies aggravated their menopausal symptoms.

Results of this study suggest that implementation of health promotion programs and increased awareness of menopause may help women cope and maintain well-being at work. Although this study was conducted in Egypt and the women typically did not reveal they were experiencing menopause, there are lessons to be gleaned from it, not as an excuse for memory challenges associated with menopause, but to validate them.

According to Weber, women who are experiencing memory problems during menopause can take some steps to cope. She noted that when women get new information, “it might be helpful to repeat it out loud, or for you to say it back to the person to confirm it.” Women may also find some solace in realizing “that you shouldn’t expect to be able to remember everything after hearing it just once.”

Hammam RA et al. Menopause and work—the experience of middle-aged female teaching staff in an Egyptian government faculty of medicine. Maturitas 2012 Mar; 71(3): 294-300
Weber MT et al. Reconciling subjective memory complaints with objective memory performance in the menopausal transition. Menopause 2012 Mar 12
Weber M, Mapstone M. Memory complaints and memory performance in the menopausal transition. Menopause 2009 Jul-Aug; 16(4): 694-700

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