Many women who are going through menopause complain that their thinking is fuzzy. Tasks that once seemed easy are more of a challenge. Now researchers at the University of Rochester have found some scientific basis for those complaints.
In a study published in the journal Menopause, the researchers say that these changes in memory and thinking are most acute just after menopause, which is technically defined at going 12 months without a period. In this country, the average age is 51.
The researchers followed 117 women at four different stages of the menopause transition: late reproductive years, early and late menopausal transition and early post menopause. The participants took tests that assessed their thinking and memory and they also reported on any menopause-related symptoms such as hot flashes or sleep disturbances. Their blood was tested to determine levels of estradiol, which can indicate estrogen levels, and follicle stimulating hormone.
One thing the researchers wanted to find out was whether changes in memory or thinking might be related to lack of sleep rather than hormone levels. Different kinds of thinking and memory were tested, including attention, verbal learning, fine motor skills and "working memory" – which is the ability to absorb and use new information.
In the early post menopause stage, women performed worse on verbal learning, verbal memory and fine motor skills. Anxiety or sleep problems – which the women reported to the researchers – did not increase the risk of memory problems. There was also no connection between specific hormone levels and thinking and memory problems but the researchers say it is possible that fluctuating hormones could play a role.
The good news is that for most women, these issues are only temporary. In other words, be patient and your brain should return to normal before too long.