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How a Woman Can Maintain Midlife Memory

Although women can experience memory problems during the period leading up to menopause, there are some practical steps they can take to help keep their memory strong.
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 29, 2000 -- Although women can experience changes in their thinking and memory during the period leading up to menopause, and menopause itself, if you're a midlife woman and you keep losing your keys, don't assume that estrogen is necessarily going to restore your memory. Outside of that, there are some practical steps women can take to help keep their memory strong.

Memory and thinking ability are not solely related to hormonal changes. In fact, women's perceptions about memory function during those times of life are more closely related to their health status, mental outlook, and stress level than hormonal changes, according to a report in the July/August issue of the journal Menopause.

"Memory is more of a problem for women in the early and middle stages of menopause than for postmenopausal women," study author Nancy Fugate Woods, PhD, RN, tells WebMD. "This suggests that it's a minor change or that women learn to cope and become less anxious about it." Woods is the dean of nursing at the University of Washington in Seattle

Perimenopause is a time of transition that can start up to 10 years before menopause, which is simply the time when a woman stops having periods. There are hormonal changes during the perimenopause, and many of the changes have effects that are not yet fully understood or appreciated. In many women, there may be problems with stress, depression, and aging that occur at the same time, and it is difficult to determine which factors account for which problems.

Interest in the issue has heated up as huge numbers of baby boomers have entered midlife. It's believed that women become more forgetful as they approach and pass through menopause, yet memory changes throughout the perimenopause, or transition, haven't been fully investigated.

To explore the effects of this time of life further, the researchers surveyed over 200 women with an average age of about 47. Based on their hormonal and menstrual status, participants were divided into study groups: menopausal (early, middle, or late), postmenopausal, and hormone replacement users. Age was not related to any memory function scales on the questionnaire except for retrospective memory.

In fact, Woods writes that "younger women reported more memory problems than older women. ... Memory functioning ratings of current memory compared with the past were worse for women who were in early and middle transition and for those who were using hormone therapy than for those who were in late transition and postmenopause."

Poor health, depression, and high levels of perceived stress were closely related to nearly all types of perceived memory losses.

Overall, the majority reported difficulty with names and trouble remembering where they put things, though most didn't consider these problems to be serious. "But if forgetfulness begins to interfere with daily activities, see your doctor," Woods advises.

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