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Menopause and Memory: Search for Links

Near Menopause, Women's Memory May Seem Worse Than It Really Is

Mood Link

Women with signs of anxiety or depression tended to score worse on tests of mental skills. Anxious women also had less estrogen in their blood, the study shows.

It's hard to unravel those patterns. It's not clear which came first -- anxiety or lower estrogen levels.

What about the women's claims of memory trouble? Anxiety and depression may make it harder to absorb new information, the researchers note. Intake of information -- not recall -- might be the issue, with mood and hormones playing roles in that process.

"A thorough investigation of mood state may be a first-line approach to complaints of memory loss in these women," Mapstone writes in a summary of the study.

Since their study was small, the researchers aren't jumping to any conclusions. They call for much bigger studies on the topic. If confirmed in larger studies, the findings could ease women's fears about memory loss as menopause approaches, Mapstone notes.

Stressful Time of Life

Many middle-aged women (and men) are busy with careers, families, and caring for aging parents, the researchers note in a news release.

"When people spread their attention thin, it's difficult to encode new information," Mapstone says.

"When they're worried or anxious about being late for work, or the problems of an aging parent -- that sort of stress can rob your attentional resources and impact your ability to encode information properly," he explains.

Mapstone says anxiety and depression may make it harder for men and women to take in new information.

Weber agrees. "What characterizes these women is that they're being pulled in a lot of different directions," she says in the news release. "Many work -- they have careers, aging parents, children. Then they're going through this dramatic change."

The "dramatic change" she refers to is menopause.

"This will resonate for most women," Weber says. "There really is something going on. And perhaps knowing that their perceived problems with memory do not suggest early dementia might alleviate their concerns and actually improve their functioning -- it's one less thing to worry about."

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