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Lapses in memory are a common source of worry, frustration and stress, and are caused by low oestrogen levels in the brain. Poor sleep, stress and mood changes can also contribute.
Do you forget names, appointments or where you left your keys? Rest assured, you’re not alone. Memory loss is common in the perimenopause and menopause.
Forgetfulness can make the best of us feel anxious and worried that our brain’s abilities are diminishing. Many women are concerned about whether this could be a sign of early dementia. Thankfully, for the vast majority of us, it isn’t.
However, if this is something you’re worried about, please speak to your GP as there are tests that can be offered to check. Confirming that you don’t have dementia can be comforting if you’re worried.
Memory loss in the menopause tends to be mild. Because there’s a gentle decline of memory as you get older, it can be hard to tell whether memory loss is related to age or the menopause.
Oestrogen plays an essential role in how our brains function. Studies have shown that, for some women, low oestrogen can be linked to lower brain performance, which can include memory loss.
Different areas of the brain are essential for different functions. For example, some take care of memory, some are important for word-finding, while others regulate mood. Oestrogen is vital in the functioning of many important areas of the brain, including how different parts of the brain communicate with each other.
When oestrogen levels are low or going wildly up and down, both memory and mood can be affected. Low mood can also be associated with poor brain functioning, so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
The root cause of menopause-related forgetfulness is complicated to unravel, and there are likely to be other hormones that also play their part, including testosterone. The key takeaway is that your hormone levels may well be the source of your forgetfulness.
Other causes of memory loss can be related to:
In research conducted by the British Menopause Society, almost 40% of the women interviewed reported issues with memory and concentration as they go through the menopause.
In another survey, conducted among women at work and in the menopause transition, over 50% reported poor concentration, tiredness and poor memory as the menopause symptoms having the most impact at work.
Memory loss can improve as you transition through the menopause and beyond, so hang in there.
Like any menopause-related change in brain function, loss of memory can occur at any stage of the menopause, including the perimenopause, as you start to notice and experience menopause symptoms.
Worrying about memory issues may make your symptoms feel worse. Be reassured that studies have shown that women sometimes worry they have memory issues which, when they’ve been tested, they don’t!
If you are suffering from menopause-related forgetfulness, there are some strategies which can help:
Taking HRT can improve your memory. It also improves your sense of wellbeing, concentration and energy, which can all assist memory.
If you’re anxious about taking HRT because of the well-publicised small risks, particularly of breast cancer, rest assured that for most women those risks are very small. Lifestyle factors like your weight and how much alcohol you drink can have a greater impact on risk.
For most women, the benefits of menopause symptom control, reduction in risk of osteoporosis and heart disease far outweigh the risks. We have lots more information on HRT here.
You may read different evidence and advice about the links between dementia and HRT. Evidence suggests that taking HRT is important for young women experiencing menopause under the age of 40 (whether naturally, because they have had their ovaries surgically removed, or because cancer treatments have stopped the ovaries working) in preventing dementia later on in life.
Studies looking at whether replenishing oestrogen levels using HRT can reduce a woman’s risk of dementia have not given any clear answers. We recommend that you take HRT only to control menopause symptoms.
At the moment, there isn’t enough clear evidence to say whether or not it will help or worsen the risk of developing dementia in the future.
Dementia is a progressive condition that causes deteriorating mental function that interferes with the activities of daily living. Many of the symptoms of dementia also ring true for menopause.
Symptoms of dementia include:
It’s really important to remember that these symptoms exist on a spectrum. They may be mild and cause anxiety, but not affect your overall function. Alternatively, they may be more severe and progressively get worse, affecting how you perform basic functions. Most people who have memory lapses do not have dementia.
As with any symptom, if you’re concerned, please speak to your GP.
If you’re concerned about forgetfulness and memory issues, you should see your GP. If you would like to discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause, book an appointment with our menopause clinic.
Dr Clare Spencer
Registered menopause specialist, GP and co-founder
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