Researchers zero in on cognitive difficulties associated with menopause

The memory problems that many women experience in their 40s and 50s as they approach and go through menopause are both real and appear to be most acute during the early period of post menopause. That is the conclusion of a study which appears today in the journal Menopause.

" going through menopausal transition have long complained of such as keeping track of information and struggling with that would have otherwise been routine," said Miriam Weber, Ph.D. a at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. "This study suggests that these problems not only exist but become most evident in women in the first year following their final menstrual period."

The study followed 117 women, who were grouped into categories based on criteria established in 2011 by the Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop +10, which consisted of an international consortium of researchers.

Study participants took a variety of tests assessing their , reported on menopause-related symptoms such as hot-flashes, sleep disturbance, depression and anxiety, and gave a sample of blood to determine current levels of estradiol (an indicator of ) and follicle stimulating hormone. Results were analyzed to determine if there were group differences in , and if these differences were due to menopausal symptoms.

The study grouped participants into four stages: late reproductive, early and late menopausal transition, and early post menopause. The late reproductive period is defined as when women first begin to notice subtle changes in their , such as changes in flow amount or duration, but still have regular .

Women in the transitional stage experience greater fluctuation in menstrual cycles – from a difference of 7 days or more in the early phase of transition to 60 days or longer in the later phase. Hormone levels also begin to fluctuate significantly during this time. This transition period can last for several years.

The researchers also evaluated women in early post menopause, defined as the first year after which a woman experienced her last menstrual period.

The were assessed with a comprehensive battery of tests to evaluate a variety of cognitive skills. These included tests of attention, verbal learning and memory, fine motor skills and dexterity, and "working memory" – or the ability to not only take in and store new information, but also manipulate it.

These tests are similar to daily tasks such as staying focused on something for a period of time, learning a new telephone number, and making a mental list of groceries and then recalling specific items as required as one wanders the aisles of a grocery store.

The researchers found that women in the early stage of post menopause performed worse on measures of verbal learning, verbal memory and fine motor skill than women in the late reproductive and late transition stages.

The researchers also found that self-reported symptoms such as sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety did not predict memory problems. Nor could these problems be associated with specific changes in hormone levels found in the blood.

"These findings suggest that cognitive declines through the transition period are independent processes rather than a consequence of sleep disruption or depression," said Weber. "While absolute hormone levels could not be linked with cognitive function, it is possible that the fluctuations that occur during this time could play a role in the memory problems that many women experience."

The process of learning new information, holding on to it, and employing it are functions associated with regions of the brain known as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are rich with estrogen receptors.

"By identifying how these progress and when women are most vulnerable, we now understand the window of opportunity during which interventions – be those therapeutic or lifestyle changes – may be beneficial," said Weber. "But the most important thing that women need to be reassured of is that these problems, while frustrating, are normal and, in all likelihood, temporary."

Related Stories

Menopause transition may cause trouble learning

May 25, 2009

The largest study of its kind to date shows that women may not be able to learn as well shortly before menopause compared to other stages in life. The research is published in the May 26, 2009, print issue of Neurology, the me ...

'Brain fog' of menopause confirmed

Mar 14, 2012

The difficulties that many women describe as memory problems when menopause approaches are real, according to a study published today in the journal Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society.

New hormone data can predict menopause within a year

Oct 27, 2008

For many women, including the growing number who choose later-in-life pregnancy, predicting their biological clock's relation to the timing of their menopause and infertility is critically important.

International experts clarify hormonal changes of menopause

Feb 16, 2012

A panel of US and international experts met in September 2011, in Washington, DC, to review the latest scientific data on the hormonal changes that mark reproductive aging in women and to reach consensus on defining the reproductive ...

Recommended for you

Doctor behind 'free radical' aging theory dies

Nov 25, 2014

Dr. Denham Harman, a renowned scientist who developed the most widely accepted theory on aging that's now used to study cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, has died in Nebraska at age 98.

Mexican boy who had massive tumor recovering

Nov 25, 2014

An 11-year-old Mexican boy who had pieces of a massive tumor removed and who drew international attention after U.S. officials helped him get treatment in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico is still recovering after ...

New medical device to make the mines safer

Nov 21, 2014

Dehydration can be a serious health issue for Australia's mining industry, but a new product to be developed with input from Flinders University's Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) is set to more effectively ...

US family gets $6.75 million in Botox case

Nov 20, 2014

A New York couple who said Botox treatment of their son's cerebral palsy left him with life-threatening complications and sued its manufacturer won a $6.75 million verdict from a federal jury on Thursday.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.