Maybe you’ve found yourself in the middle aisle of the grocery store, wondering what item you wanted to pick up. Or, you’ve forgotten the story that your best friend just told you over lunch, and she has to jog your memory. If you’re currently experiencing menopause, you may be dealing with brain fog, a common symptom that can occur during the many hormonal and physical changes of menopause. Read on to find out more about why menopause brain fog happens and how to manage your symptoms.
Why Menopause Brain Fog?
When you enter perimenopause, your body goes through a lot of changes that can easily affect your memory. “We think [memory] changes are related to changing hormones during this time—mostly loss of estrogen,” says Miriam Weber, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester. “But, they may also be related to sleep disturbance, increases in depression and anxiety, and hot flashes.”
In a study led by Weber and published in the journal Menopause, women experiencing menopause brain fog were also more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.
How to Identify Menopause Brain Fog
Menopause brain fog usually crops up as trouble with attention, working memory, executive function, and/or verbal memory. What’s worrisome is that some women have been misdiagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s when really their memory problems were caused by menopause itself. So, how would you know the difference?
“These declines are subtle. Women don’t become impaired, but may find that they have to ‘work harder’ to function at their typical level,” explains Weber. “Some examples of what women might notice is that they have more difficulty multitasking, have word-finding difficulties, feel more ‘forgetful,’ or have difficulty concentrating.”
You might find yourself needing to make more lists or write down appointments on a calendar that you might previously have remembered without any trouble. But, know that the problems are usually going to be with your short-term memory, not the long-term one. “Remote memories—recalling childhood, significant life events, things from five years ago, and so one—are not typically affected,” says Weber.
Symptoms can begin in early midlife—ages 45 to 55—but it’s really less about age and more about the woman’s reproductive stage, according to a report published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Ways to Combat Menopause Brain Fog
You’re not doomed to be “out of it” for the next decade or so. There are some things that you can do to lessen menopause brain fog and boost your memory.
A study suggests that 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week can improve memory, whether it’s affected my menopause or not. Middle-aged women who are sedentary are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
2. Follow a brain-boosting diet.
3. Keep your mind active.
Be wary of apps and video games promising to boost memory. The jury’s still out on whether or not those are actually beneficial. Instead, find ways to keep your mind active. Seek everyday activities that require your brain to make important connections. Read, play cards with friends, volunteer, take a class, or even practice a hobby like painting. Learning a new skill, such as digital photography or quilting, has been found to improve memory.
Also, you may want to ask your doctor about:
4. Try hormone therapy.
“Recent clinical trials show that hormone therapy initiated at the time of the menopausal transition—when women are skipping periods, or for a few years after their final menstrual period—neither harms nor benefits cognitive function,” says Weber. People sometimes use hormone therapy to combat other symptoms of menopause, so it may be worth a try. To decide it if might be right for you, discuss it with your doctor.
5. Soy protein supplements could help.
Isoflavone-rich soy protein may or may not be helpful. “There is data showing a modest benefit of soy isoflavone supplementation on cognitive function in postmenopausal women. However, women should consult their primary care physician or gynecologist before taking any supplement or over the counter remedy,” says Weber.
The good news is that the onset of menopause doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your short-term memory forever. “Our best data suggests that these changes are temporary, and memory rebounds sometime in postmenopause,” says Weber. “However, many cognitive functions change with age. We would not expect a woman in her 60s to have the same memory ability, or ability to multitask, as a woman in her 30s.”