WHAT IS IT?
Many women find that that their thinking feels foggy and that their memory doesn’t seem to be as good during the menopause transition. Some have trouble concentrating or finding the right words. Organizing and staying on task may feel more difficult. Cognitive tests of women during the menopause transition back up their observation that their memory is worse.
This is another area (like aches and pains, bladder control, and bone loss) where it is hard to separate how much of a complaint is due to “normal aging” and how much is from the menopause transition. Even in middle age, there is a small decrease in memory, how quickly we processing information, and paying attention.
Searching for words does NOT mean you have dementia. Nor is there any research linking brain fog during the menopause transition and later dementia. If you have memory problems that are getting in the way of everyday life, talk to your health care provider.
We need more research to understand cognitive problems during menopause, let alone prevent it. Read on to learn what we do know.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO MY BODY?
Although the fogginess is real, the reasons for it are still poorly understood . It may be that the large hormone changes during the perimenopause affect cognition. Studies have tested cognitive performance at difference reproductive stages and followed women through the menopause transition and postmenopausal period. They find small decreases in memory. However, it is hard to separate the effects of aging from the effects of the menopause transition. A decline in cognitive function is part of normal aging that begins around age 50.
Studies of women after a surgical menopause also find some brain fog.
WHAT TO EXPECT
A very large study found that 31% of premenopausal women said they were forgetful, compared to 44% of women beginning perimenopause and 41% of women post-menopause. In this study, cognitive issues were the #2 complaint of women. (#1 was increased aches, pains, and joint stiffness.) The good news: cognition eventually got better again.
Research suggests that other factors that may make brain fog worse:
- stress (e.g. unemployment, financial problems, difficult teenagers at home, aging parents, career demands, and relationship problems)
- untreated hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol
- some medications
- less than a high school education
- nonwhite race/ethnicity
- low physical activity.
Treatments that are inappropriate or have not been studied for this symptom are not listed.
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Authors: Dr. Leslie Snyder, Dr. Katherine Newton, & Dr. Susan Reed. Last reviewed April 23, 2021.