We have all experienced lapses in what we can remember. Memory loss is a natural part of aging. But menopausal women often complain of “brain freeze” or the inability to retrieve certain information as one of the symptoms of menopause.
And research is now confirming what women have claimed for years, that memory and learning are affected during menopause.
The study, published in Neurology, found that women do not learn as well during early and late perimenopause, when periods are irregular but have not disappeared altogether.
Researchers found the changes were subtle, manifesting as less improvement rather than actual decline and most importantly, the deficits were temporary: They stated that once post menopause had begun, a woman’s normal learning capacity returned.
The studies senior author Dr. Arun S. Karlamangla, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine said, “The good news is that when women are finished with the menopause transition and in steady post menopause, cognitive performance, memory, learning, all that comes back to pre-menopause levels”.
“This adds to several other studies that suggest that there are parts of the menopause transition where there are effects on memory and cognitive abilities,” said Dr. Victor Henderson, a professor of health research and policy and of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, and past president of the North American Menopause Society.
“For women starting the menopause transition or just finishing it, there are no big changes in memory,” Henderson said. “There may be some problems in the middle of the transition, but before and after, women are about the same.”
According to researchers, about two-thirds of women say they have memory problems during their transition to menopause. Estrogen plays an active role in memory. Estrogen stimulates neurotransmitters, which allow parts of your brain to communicate with one another. Estrogen also helps dilate blood vessels in the brain, increasing the flow of red blood cells that help the brain to function. During female menopause, your estrogen levels decrease. The decline in estrogen levels or the hormone fluctuations that occur during this time may compromise memory and other brain functions.
The study tested 2,362 women who were 45 to 57 years old when first tested and they were followed for more than four years. They were tested for processing speed, verbal memory and working memory during the four stages of the transition: premenopause, early perimenopausal, late perimenopause, postmenopausal.
The researchers are still studying whether menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes play any role in memory and learning fluctuations during this transition.
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