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Menopause Health Center

Menopause ‘Brain Fog’ May Be Real

New Research Finds Differences in Menopausal Memory Problems and Age-Related Memory Loss
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 16, 2012 -- Along with hot flashes and night sweats, memory problems are a common complaint of menopausal women. Now a new study finds evidence that menopause “brain fog” may be real.

The research provides clues about changes in women’s brains as they transition through the “change,” finding key differences between the memory issues women in the study had around the time of menopause and those most often associated with aging.

“I think the take-home message is that there is something to the complaints about memory during this phase of life,” says University of Rochester Medical Center neuropsychologist Miriam T. Weber, PhD. “The memory issues we saw were distinctly different from the kind of issues seen in older populations.”

Working Memory and Menopause

The study included 75 women who were tested on different aspects of memory and thinking.

All of the women were experiencing menopause-related changes in their menstrual cycles at the time of testing, but had had at least one period during the previous year.

Women who had memory complaints were more likely to perform poorly on tests designed to measure working memory, which Weber describes as the ability to take in new information and manipulate it.

Tasks that involve working memory might include calculating the amount of a tip to leave at a restaurant or changing one’s itinerary at the last minute.

The researchers found little evidence that the women had problems storing and retrieving information, which is common in patients with age-related memory loss.

Psychiatry and psychology professor Pauline Maki, PhD, who also worked on the study, says menopausal women tend to be much better than older people at recognizing and assessing their memory deficits.

Maki is director of Women’s Mental Health Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It may be that women are generally more tuned in to bodily changes because so many changes are happening all at once,” she tells WebMD.

Hormones and Menopause ‘Brain Fog’

The study, published this week in the journal Menopause, did not show a link between observed memory problems and estrogen levels.

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