Many women report experiencing memory lapses – sometimes described as a feeling of “brain fog” – as they approach menopause.
Now researchers have determined the symptoms are real, according to a new study published in the journal Menopause.
Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago tested the memories and mental skills of 75 women in their 40s, 50s and 60s to provide some clues to what is happening in women’s brains as they hit menopause.
Researchers assessed their abilities to learn and retain information, and to sustain their attention over time. They were also asked about menopause symptoms including depression, anxiety, hot flashes and sleep difficulties.
Women with memory complaints were much more likely to do poorly in tests measuring their ability to take in new information and manipulate it in their heads – such as calculating the amount of a tip after a restaurant meal or adding numbers mentally. They also had a harder time staying focused and were more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. The team did not find any link between memory problems and hormone levels.
“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, a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester 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.”
About one-third to two-thirds of women during menopause report forgetfulness and other difficulties related to poor memory.
“If you speak with middle-aged women, many will say, yes, we’ve known this. We’ve experienced this,” said Weber. “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.”