Memory slips may be due to menopause
March 14th, 2012
05:10 PM ET

Memory slips may be due to menopause

You're standing in the grocery store aisle staring at the rows of canned soup. The recipe called for three cups of soup, but you can't for the life of you remember what kind of soup or how many ounces there are in three cups.

You joke with your husband, "My memory's slipping again - must be the menopause."

Turns out, you may be right.

A study published Wednesday in the North American Menopause Society's journal Menopause analyzed the memory performance of 75 middle-aged women who were transitioning into menopause.

Approximately two-thirds of women complain of memory problems or lapses during this time, said study author Miriam Weber, a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

"Our work suggests that there's something to that - there is something to their complaints," she said. "It might not be memory... but it is a cognitive process that's related to the types of things they're experiencing."

By memory, Weber doesn't mean recall ability. Her study showed no direct correlation between the memory complaints and the women's ability to retain information.

However, the study did show a deterioration in the perimenopausal women's "working memory," or their ability to take in new information and manipulate it. For instance, participants were given a series of numbers and letters that were mixed up and they had to mentally sequence them, then repeat it back.

The study also showed a decline in attention capabilities among these women.

"Women think that they have forgotten the appointment, etc., but in reality, they probably had difficulty focusing their attention enough to really register that appointment," Weber said. "They may be helped by trying to focus on one thing at a time, eliminating distractions or repeating the new information a few times to successfully 'encode' it."

A 2009 study published in the journal Neurology showed that transitioning women's memory difficulties rebounded to their previous levels after menopause. This shows the link between the two may be due to hormone levels, Weber said. Studies so far have failed to prove the direct link, but that may be because of an inability to properly measure the hormones day-to-day.

"In [menopause], there's a linear decline in estrogen. But during the transition there's tremendous fluctuation," Weber said. The fluctuation, instead of the drop, may be contributing to what some call foggy brain. "It's subtle changes, [but] it might be good for women to know that what they're experiencing might be normal."

Weber and her team will continue to study the participants over five years in order to determine whether the cognitive problems continue or level out after menopause, and to look for possible interventions.

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