If you’re one of the thousands of women who have begun feeling more forgetful as you approach menopause, you’re not alone. Many menopausal women often complain of “brain freeze” or the inability to retrieve certain information such as specific words or names when they need them.
Some in the medical community now believe there is a link between the drop in estrogen during menopause and an increased risk of dementia. Dr. Cristin Babcock of Women’s Care says that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from dementia.
The reason menopausal women may experience forgetfulness has to do with the way estrogen stimulates neurotransmitters. These chemicals allow regions of the brain to communicate with one another. When a woman reaches menopause or undergoes a hysterectomy with ovarian removal, the estrogen levels in her body decrease at a very rapid rate, which may impact memory by reducing the effectiveness of these neurotransmitters.
Women who have their ovaries removed before menopause are most likely to be affected by estrogen deficiencies — even if they are undergoing hormone therapy. Most are unable to receive the same levels of estrogen that they would have received naturally, putting them at a higher risk of dementia.
Researchers are studying the relationship between menopause and dementia and the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy. Given the length of these studies, however, we cannot expect results for another ten to twenty years. In the meantime, doctors recommend leading an active, healthy lifestyle. They suggest exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight to help prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and strokes — all of which can affect brain function.
“Most cases of dementia are due to a slow progressive decline in health,” Dr. Babcock says. “So by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be able to prevent many health issues that can ultimately lead to memory loss.”
Want to stay sharp?
Activate your brain: Like the rest of your body, your brain needs exercise too! Keep sharp with crossword puzzles, brainteasers, or adult education classes. You can also try Brain Age games, a handheld device featuring activities such as simple math problems, currency counting drills and drawing exercises.