Beginning their menopause around 40 or 50, some women experience a decline in their mental acuity, ability to remember things, and concentration. If this is the case for you, you may be wondering why these memory problems appear. Here we explain what causes memory problems and how you can prevent them.
What do we mean when we say memory problems?
Also known as mental fog, memory problems often appear during menopause. They can range from decreased memory, difficulty concentrating or finding words, losing your train of thought, and getting confused easily. When the symptoms are severe, it could be dementia (The Menopause Charity, n.d.).
How common are those problems in menopause?
Memory problems increase with age, especially around menopause. It is considered to be the second most frequent symptom during this stage. With 73% of women noting they experience this symptom (My Menopause Centre, 2021).
Risk factors for memory problems
A slight memory deficit usually accompanies seniority. However, some factors accentuate the risk. For example (Breastcancer, 2022; The Guardian, 2021):
- Decrease in oestrogen levels
- Drugs (tamoxifen)
- Sleep disorders
- Acute stress
- Mood swings
- Chronic depression
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Low levels of hormones produced by the thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- Surgical menopause
- History of smoking
- Low physical activity
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
How does oestrogen influence memory problems?
Normally, oestrogen protects the brain tissue and helps regulate memory and learning. During and after menopause, a decrease in mental performance is observed due to the absence or deficit of this hormone (Carranza & Carpio, 2018).
Generally, it has been found that the lower the oestrogen levels, the worse the symptoms. This causes differences in each stage of menopause due to the fluctuations of this hormone. However, some women do not seem to be affected despite having low oestrogen levels. This is probably related to their lifelong mental exercise habits (WebMD, 2016).
Warning signs and symptoms
You should consult your doctor if these signs or symptoms negatively interfere with your daily life. Dementia will always be a risk at this stage. So, you should be aware of the following symptoms (Healthline, 2017):
- The need to repeat questions or statements over and over again.
- Getting lost in familiar places.
- Trouble finding the right words or identifying different objects.
- Difficulty performing daily tasks.
- Inability to make decisions.
- Mood disorders or behaviour disorders.
How to deal with memory problems?
When they are mild, they go away on their own over time. However, the most serious ones can cause you to neglect your hygiene, forget the name of similar objects or even have difficulty following instructions (Healthline, 2017).
The use of hormone replacement therapy is not currently advised for this issue however lifestyle changes can improve your memory. For example (Breastcancer, 2022; Healthline, 2017; The Guardian, 2021):
- Eating a healthy diet, especially with whole foods and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids.
- Get enough rest. Poor quality sleep can make symptoms worse. For this, it is advisable to avoid large meals before bedtime and avoid coffee, tobacco, and alcohol. To wear comfortable clothes. It is also important that you learn how to avoid anxiety. The use of relaxation therapies such as yoga, massage, or deep breathing exercises can help.
- Exercise on a regular basis, at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
- Exercise your brain, keep it busy, learn new things, stimulate your memory with information you want to remember like phone numbers or birthdays, to-do lists, set reminders and not do too many things at once.
Menopause can influence memory problems, as such we encourage you to practice healthy lifestyle habits to help you maintain your mental and physical well-being. Remember to seek medical advice and do not self-medicate in the presence of alarming signs and symptoms.
Breastcancer. (2022). Síntomas de la menopausia: problemas de memoria. https://www.breastcancer.org/es/efectos-secundarios-tratamiento/menopausia/tratamiento-sintomas/problemas-memoria
Carranza-Lira, S., & Carpio-Bárcenas, P. (2018). Tiempo transcurrido a partir de la menopausia y su repercusión en el deterioro cognitivo. Ginecología y obstetricia de México, 86(5), 289-296. https://doi.org/10.24245/gom.v86i5.1820
Healthline. (2017). Menopause Brain Fog: Symptoms, Treatment, Is It Real, and More. https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/menopause-brain-fog#treatment
My Menopause Centre. (2021). Menopause and brain fog. https://www.mymenopausecentre.com/symptoms/brain-fog/#references
The Guardian. (2021). Menopause brain: the inability to think clearly is not “all in your mind.” https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/oct/10/menopause-brain-the-inability-to-think-clearly-is-not-all-in-your-mind#:~:text=In%20perimenopause%20and%20the%20early
The Menopause Charity. (n.d.). Brain fog. https://www.themenopausecharity.org/2021/10/21/brain-fog
WebMD. (2016). More Evidence Menopause “Brain Fog” Is Real. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/news/20161012/more-evidence-menopause-brain-fog-is-real#:~:text=It