“Oh, you know, what’s his name, that guy who is married to that blonde actress who was in that movie we just saw…”
Among the often-mentioned gifts of perimenopause and menopause, such as night sweats and hot flashes, are also memory problems–aka brain fog. A drop in estrogen is linked to a reduced sharpness of memory, word retrieval, and other cognitive tasks. These are similar to what everyone normally faces, to varying degrees, in their late 50s and 60s as the brain ages. But the effects from menopause may come on much more quickly, so are more (alarmingly) noticeable. There are some rare cases where the impact on daily functioning of memory, concentration, and planning is so great that estrogen replacement therapy is recommended to ease the transition.
It’s Temporary (Sort Of)
The National Center for Biotechnology Information’s PubMed quotes a four-year study of 2,362 participants from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Although they did find cognitive decline during menopause, “… improvement rebounded to premenopausal levels in post-menopause, suggesting that menopause transition-related cognitive difficulties may be time-limited.”
“The brain fog when women’s brains seem not to be hitting on all eight cylinders is temporary,” Dr. Greendale, head of the study, said in an interview. “During the menopause transition, a woman’s brain may feel a little off, a little muddy, but when the transition passes, the clouds clear and the fog lifts. Sometimes all a woman needs to know is that this too shall pass.”
Even if our brains do rebound after menopause as our bodies readjust to the new hormone levels, let’s face it, over time our memories are not going to get better.
Tips From the Pros
Learning some new memory tricks, methods, and habits will help us as we age.
- Just don’t trust your memory–ever. Write it down, send yourself an email, or make a voice memo. Put sticky notes in a noticeable place – oven door, on the back of your breakfast chair? Put “get gas” at the top of your grocery list.
- Stick to your coming and going routines, bag, keys, glasses always go in the same spot.
- Get in the habit of looking back to scan the area for forgotten items when you get up to leave, especially in a public place.
- No, talking to yourself does not (necessarily) mean you are losing it. Reminding yourself out loud of where you are storing something, or narrating a process you want to remember can be useful.
Renown memory expert Harry Lorayne, now in his 90’s, has written many books on using mnemonics and visuals in memory training. His methods are fun and they work. Next time you are introduced to someone whose name you want to remember, take a moment to really look at their face. Repeat their first name, and then come up with a quick visual that links to the name. Holly is holding a holly plant and wearing a Santa hat. Julia is naked, (this gets our attention) wearing nothing but loads of jewelry. Connie is wearing a cartoonish black and white prison outfit because she’s a “convict.” The funnier and more outlandish the better the association will work.
Slowing down and moving through your day with more awareness is good for anyone’s mental sharpness. Focusing on what you are doing, hearing, and experiencing will help with recall as well as reminding us about physical best practices too–like bending your knees when lifting, or using handrails. And as I often say, exercise and good nutrition are good for your body and for your brain.
What are you doing to improve your memory? I’m considering taking an Italian class after reading that learning a language helps memory.
Ciao for now!