October 19, 2020/Women's Health

Memory Loss in Women — Is It Age or Menopause?

Decreasing levels of estrogen affect brain function

Illustration of confused worman.

If you’re in your 40s or 50s, you’re among so many other women who experience memory issues or “brain fog” — like a sudden inability to recall simple facts, names or dates.

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But it’s also common for some women to also fear it’s an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

If this sounds familiar, you shouldn’t worry. When you take your age into consideration, these symptoms likely don’t mean you’re also developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. Having difficulty remembering these types of things is a typical symptom of both menopause and having a baby.

According to women’s health specialist Holly L. Thacker, MD, dipping levels of estrogen from either menopause or pregnancy can affect brain function and cause these momentary lapses in recollection.

Here are some facts Dr. Thacker lays out to note the difference between having trouble remembering things due to menopause and memory problems related to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Facts to ease your mind about memory ‘blips’

  • People with Alzheimer’s aren’t often aware enough of their condition to recognize it and tell their doctor.
  • The first signs of Alzheimer’s are often forgetting how to perform activities such as driving home from the store, or fumbling for words (not the inability to remember names or​, say, a colleague’s last name).
  • Generally those with Alzheimer’s are much older than women experiencing menopause — which typically happens in your mid-40s to mid-50s.
  • Midlife “brain fog” is treatable. Hormone therapy has been shown to sharpen a menopausal mind and may help protect you from further memory loss. According to the National Institute of Health, hormone therapy after menopause can also provide health benefits related to memory. Check with your doctor to discuss any significant decline in your memory as menopause progresses.

Exercising your brain can help

Exercising your brain is another way to stay mentally fit. If your regular daily activity or work is primarily left-brained (your brain’s left side is the thinking or logical side) then switch to doing right-brained activities (the right side of your brain is your creative center tied to the creation of music, art and imagination) — and vice versa.

For example if you work as an accountant, do something physically active or creative in your spare time. On the other hand if you spend most of your daily activity in creative work, try reading, writing or problem-solving activities or games.

Exciting brain-boosting ideas

“Some of the best ways to help your brain stay fit and active to counteract some of the memory fog you experience during menopause or pregnancy can also be a lot of fun,” Dr. Thacker says.

Here are some recommended activities that engage your brain to keep it sharp.

  • Do crossword puzzles.
  • Play phone app games, boardgames or chess.
  • Go for a vigorous walk.
  • Read a novel.
  • Take up ballroom dancing.
  • Journal positive experiences.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Meditate.

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“The important thing is to engage and challenge both sides of your brain,” Dr. Thacker says. “Midlife can be the start of your best years yet — and you do have the ability to make sure that happens for your body and your mind.”

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