What is menopause brain fog?

If you’re a woman in your 40s or 50s, you may be going through menopause or the ending of your menstrual cycles. The average age to go through this change in the United States is 51.

Symptoms are different for each woman, and include anything from night sweats to weight gain to thinning hair. Many women also report feeling forgetful or having a general “brain fog” that makes it hard to concentrate.

Are memory issues part of menopause? Yes. And this “brain fog” is more common than you might think.

In one study, researchers share that some 60 percent of middle-aged women report difficulty concentrating and other issues with cognition. These issues spike in women going through perimenopause.

Perimenopause is the stage just before the menstrual cycle stops entirely. The women in the study noticed subtle changes in memory, but the researchers also believe that a “negative affect” may have made these feelings more pronounced.

The researchers explain that women going through menopause may generally feel a more negative mood, and that mood may be related to memory issues. Not only that, but “brain fog” may also be connected with sleep issues and vascular symptoms associated with menopause, like hot flashes.

Another study also focuses on the idea that women in early stages of menopause may experience more noticeable issues with cognition. Specifically, women in the first year of their last menstrual period scored the lowest on tests evaluating:

  • verbal learning
  • memory
  • motor function
  • attention
  • working memory tasks

Memory for the women improved over time, which is the opposite of what the researchers had initially hypothesized.

What’s causing this foggy thinking? Scientists believe it has something to do with hormone changes. Estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone are all responsible for different processes in the body, including cognition. Perimenopause lasts an average of 4 years, during which time your hormone levels may fluctuate wildly and cause a range of symptoms as the body and mind adjust.

Memory issues during menopause can be completely normal. You may forget where you placed your cellphone or have trouble remembering an acquaintance’s name. If your cognitive issues are starting to negatively impact your daily life, however, it may be time to see your doctor.

Dementia may also cause cloudy thinking. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It starts with difficulty remembering things and having trouble organizing thoughts. Unlike the “brain fog” associated with menopause, though, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and gets worse over time.

Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • repeating questions or statements over and over
  • getting lost, even in familiar places
  • trouble finding the right words to identify different objects
  • difficulty performing daily tasks
  • difficulty making decisions
  • changes in mood, personality, or behavior

In many women, menopause “brain fog” may be mild and go away on its own with time. More severe memory issues may cause you to neglect your personal hygiene, forget the name of familiar objects, or have difficulty following directions.

Once your doctor has ruled out other issues, like dementia, you may explore menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). This treatment involves taking either low-dose estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progestin. These hormones may help with the many symptoms you experience during menopause, not just memory loss.

Long-term use of estrogen may increase your risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues. Speak with your doctor about the benefits versus the risks of this type of treatment.

You may not be able to prevent the “brain fog” associated with menopause. Still, there are some lifestyle changes you can make that may ease your symptoms and improve your memory overall.

Eat a well-balanced diet

A diet that’s high in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and fat may be bad for both your heart and your brain. Instead, try filling up on whole foods and healthy fats.

The Mediterranean diet, for example, may help with brain health because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated fats.

Good food choices include:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • fish
  • beans and nuts
  • olive oil

Get enough rest

Your sleep quality may make your “brain fog” worse. With sleep problems high on the list of symptoms associated with menopause, getting in enough rest can be a tall order. In fact, some 61 percent of postmenopausal women report insomnia issues.

What you can do:

  • Avoid eating large meals before bedtime. And steer clear of spicy or acidic foods. They may cause hot flashes.
  • Skip stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bed. Alcohol may also disrupt your sleep.
  • Dress for success. Don’t wear heavy clothing or pile on lots of blankets in bed. Turning down the thermostat or using a fan may help keep you cool.
  • Work on relaxation. Stress can make snoozing even more difficult. Try deep breathing, yoga, or massage.

Exercise your body

Getting regular physical activity is recommended for all people, including women going through menopause. Researchers believe that exercise may even help with symptoms like memory issues.

What you can do:

  • Try getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five days a week for a total of 150 minutes. Activities to try include walking, jogging, cycling, and water aerobics.
  • Incorporate strength training into your routine as well. Try lifting free weights or using weight machines at your gym at least twice a week. You should aim to do eight exercises with 8 to 12 repetitions.

Exercise your mind

Your brain needs regular workouts as you age. Try doing crossword puzzles or starting a new hobby, like playing the piano. Getting out socially may help as well. Even keeping a list of the things you need to do in the day may help you organize your mind when you’re feeling foggy.

Memory and other cognition issues associated with menopause may improve with time. Eat well, get good sleep, exercise, and keep your mind active to help with your symptoms in the meantime.

If your “brain fog” gets worse, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out other health issues or to ask about hormone treatments for menopause.