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Lifting the Brain Fog of Menopause

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Lifting the Brain Fog of Menopause

If you’re a woman in your 40s or 50s, chances are you’ve suffered at least one episode of "brain fog". Research shows that memory problems in menopause are real.

You meet an acquaintance at a party. Her name’s on the tip of your tongue. Can you remember it to introduce her to your partner? Brain fog can make for an awkward social situation, not to mention be just plain annoying. On your way home you suddenly remember her name—hours too late.

One-third to two-thirds of women report they suffer from brain fog, or some type of memory loss, during their 40s and 50s. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted one of the few studies brave enough to look at what’s going on in women’s brains when they enter menopause.

Their findings? Brain fog is for real.

Memory problems are normal
Women, ranging in age from 40 to 60, underwent extensive cognitive testing. The results are helping researchers understand what’s going on in the menopausal brain.

“The most important thing to realize is that there really are some cognitive changes that occur during this phase in a woman’s life,” said Miriam Weber, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who led the study.

“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.”

Common memory problems
Women who reported memory problems did poorly on tests that measured working memory and ability to focus on a challenging task. Women had difficulty

  • taking in and using new information (e.g. calculating a tip on a meal or adding up numbers in one’s head)
  • focusing on a complex task (e.g. doing taxes, reading a challenging book, or paying attention on the road during a long drive)

Women were better at remembering individual pieces of information, such as buying milk on the way home at the grocery store.

Other symptoms
Women who said they had memory problems also were more likely to suffer from

Hormone levels
The researchers did not find a link between hormone levels and memory problems.

“If you speak with middle-aged women, many will say, yes, we’ve known this. We’ve experienced this,” said Weber. “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.”

Improve your memory
If you’re having memory problems, a helpful little trick to lift brain fog is to repeat new information out loud or say it back to a person to confirm it. Repeating the information reinforces it in your memory and helps you hold onto it longer.

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