Forgetting someone’s name is one thing; finding yourself in a place you don’t remember driving to is another. Memory problems during menopause are usually attributable to minor lapses in memory, but they’re certainly something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Forgetting an item on your grocery list isn’t uncommon. It’s also something you shouldn’t worry too much about. Most memory problems are the result of other causes, such as increasing age, sleep problems, and stress.
But memory problems that occur frequently or leave you feeling confused or disoriented can be a real issue. Simple forgetfulness is the result of changes in mental function and clarity. For women entering into and living with menopause, memory loss can potentially start becoming an issue. While it is a common problem, its occurrence doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia later in life.
As with most symptoms of menopause, estrogen plays a role in forgetfulness, short-term memory problems, and other memory recall problems. Estrogen stimulates the brain’s neurotransmitters that are responsible for memory and language. As estrogen levels fall, communication between these neurotransmitters suffers. In addition, estrogen dilates blood vessels, which increases blood flow to the brain. Increased blood flow increases brain function. Lower estrogen levels mean the vessels don’t dilate fully, which means less blood is getting to the brain.
Understanding The Risk
Many women will experience short-term lapses in memory or have difficulty recalling names or words before, during, and after menopause. The extent to which you may be affected depends partially on your overall health and also on your hereditary tendencies. Medical studies haven’t been able to identify an exact percentage of women who have cognitive problems during menopause, but it’s thought that as much as half of menopausal women will experience a lapse in memory.
Some women who begin experiencing memory problems during menopause worry that it’s a sign of things to come—that in their later years, they’ll face Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. A study from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that is not the case. In fact, they found no connection between women in their 40s and 50s who frequently report memory problems and those who later develop more advanced memory loss.
The first thing your doctor may try is to balance the loss of estrogen with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Low doses of estrogen can help treat or subdue many of menopause’s most common symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and memory problems. However, this probably wouldn’t be a long-term solution, as some studies have demonstrated a possible connection between HRT and increased incidence of dementia, breast cancer, and stroke.
Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes that can help with memory recall. Sometimes, stress or emotional concerns can cloud memory, so they may recommend that you try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or massage to help clear your mind. Getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly can also improve cognition and overall health, which are both connected to memory recall.
Occasional moments of forgetfulness may prove to be minor, merely posing an annoying inconvenience. If, however, memory problems grow larger or you start finding yourself confused or disoriented, you may need to seek a doctor’s help.