Menopause Symptoms: Memory Problems

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Women entering menopause sometimes report feeling “fuzzy” or less sharp mentally, or that they can’t remember or concentrate as well as they once did. It's not clear to what extent natural menopause affects memory, or whether this is a consequence of normal aging. Right now, we don’t have much evidence to show that natural menopause affects memory or mental function. It may be that the hot flashes and/or sleep disturbances that come with menopause are affecting memory and concentration. However, there is some evidence that experiencing a sudden medical menopause can have an adverse effect on memory.

Researchers are still working to figure out how estrogen levels impact mental functioning and memory. It’s certainly conceivable that when your estrogen levels are low, or you are taking a drug that blocks the effects of estrogen (such as tamoxifen), your brain cells' ability to receive, communicate, and store information may be reduced, resulting in decreased memory. At the same time, other factors besides menopause itself may be at work. Disturbed sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and depression have a potent effect on memory. Chemotherapy can affect memory, too. So can underlying medical conditions such as vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism.

The bottom line: If you’re having memory problems, talk to your primary health care provider, who can help you begin to untangle possible causes.

Memory is also very dependent on mental conditioning — how often and how long you use your memory and other brain functions. New information about the brain indicates that contrary to past belief, brain cells are not fixed in number. No matter how old you are, you can still grow new brain cells. Just like the rest of your body, the more rigorously and regularly you exercise your brain, the better it will function. So keep your brain busy: learn new things and have new experiences, and stir up your memory by testing yourself on what you'd like to remember—telephone numbers or family birthdays. It also may be helpful to make to-do lists, set reminders for yourself, and avoid taking on too many tasks at once. Exercising the body is important, too, as there is research suggesting that regular physical activity can protect against memory loss.

Although there are many herbal supplements marketed as memory boosters, none has been proven to have an impact on memory or mental functioning.

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