Memory Loss and Menopause: Separating Fact from Fiction

Last updated 01.29.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 11 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Memory problems affect 44%-62% of women during menopause. In fact, this type of cognitive decline is one of the most commonly reported menopausal symptoms. 

The good news is that, unlike cognitive decline in later life, this unwanted side effect is usually temporary. However, frequent memory lapses during menopause can still interfere with our daily lives, causing feelings of frustration and inadequacy, especially at work. So, it’s important to identify what’s causing memory loss and take steps to stay as sharp as possible during this time of our lives. 

Like many other women, I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t quite as reliable as it was before I began my menopausal journey. I often find myself forgetting where I put my keys or phone, and I’ve even missed a couple of important appointments. So now, I’m taking steps to improve my brain function and memory, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you, too. 

So, why does memory loss happen in the first place? And is there anything we can do to boost our brain power during menopause? 

In this post, I’ll uncover the truth about menopause-related memory loss and separate the fact from the fiction. Plus, I’ll also explore the best ways to look after your brain during this transitional time.

How Does Menopause Affect Memory?

Cognitive decline is a normal part of getting older. But memory loss isn’t just a thing that happens to us in our 70s and 80s. Women going through perimenopause frequently complain of memory lapses.

During the menopausal transition phase, your reproductive system begins to slow down, and your body produces lower levels of estrogen than it did before. This process, known as perimenopause, usually takes several years to complete.

As the hormone level decreases, symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, kick in. But declining estrogen levels also have a direct impact on your brain, and memory decline is commonplace.

So, if you’re forgetting where you put your keys or what you did last weekend, don’t panic. It might not be early-onset Alzheimer’s. It could be a sign of perimenopause.

Studies show that declining of this hormone impacts a variety of cognitive functions, including verbal memory, concentration skills, and the ability to learn and retain information.

But there’s good news. Once the transition to menopause is complete, the cognitive process improves again, and your memory will most likely return to its former state.

How Does Estrogen Loss Cause Memory Loss?

Most people only think of estrogen as a sex hormone. After all, it triggers the development of female characteristics and reproductive organs and powers our monthly cycle. But it also has a major impact on other processes in the body. This includes inflammation reduction, cholesterol control, as well as bladder, heart, bone, and brain health.

Estrogen supports neuron growth in the brain and protects neurotransmitter systems that regulate comprehension and memory. But when it declines, so do these protective and regenerative processes. As a result, memory and other cognitive functions suffer.

During menopause, glucose, the brain’s main source of fuel, is also in short supply. Without glucose, the brain is forced to find its fuel elsewhere, and many of its processes slow down.

But recent research from the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine suggests that changes to the brain’s structure, connectivity, and energy consumption are reversed in post-menopause.

The study compared detailed MRI and PET scans of 161 women’s brains at different stages on their menopausal journey; pre-menopause, menopausal transition phase, and post-menopause.

The data revealed a wide variety of profound brain changes, including loss of gray and white matter.

But interestingly, the results also showed that the brain compensates for some of these changes. For example, by increasing blood flow and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound used to keep all living cells alive.

But that’s not all. Many changes, including loss of gray and white matter, had reversed themselves by the time the participants had reached menopause or postmenopause.

So, the science is in. Yes, menopause can negatively impact our brains and lead to loss of memory. But thankfully, the effects appear to be temporary.

What Can I Do to Reduce Memory Loss During Perimenopause?

What Can I Do to Reduce Memory Loss During Perimenopause

Just like you, I want to be as sharp as possible and keep my memory functioning at its best throughout the menopause transition. But with hormones going haywire, and my brain chemistry in chaos, at first, I had no idea how to improve my mental functioning. 

So, I began gathering data from the latest studies into brain health, and researching how our lifestyle choices affect our brains. 

And it turns out there’s actually quite a lot we can do to improve our memories. 

So, if you’re like me and you’re concerned about cognitive decline during menopause, try these expert-approved tips:

Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet

Sugar, refined carbohydrates, and ultra-processed foods are all bad news for your body and brain. 

Studies have shown that habitual consumption of these foods leads to poor mental function. So, there’s never been a better time to cut out unhealthy junk and switch to nutritious and delicious brain-healthy foods.

The following foods have been shown to have a positive impact on the functioning of the mind and memory.

  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a rich source of medium-chain fatty acids. The body converts these acids into ketones, which the brain can use for fuel. This is particularly good news for menopausal women as the brain’s regular food source, glucose, is in short supply.
  • Dark chocolate: Cocoa flavonoids, found in chocolate, have been shown to improve sharpen memory. Cocoa also has a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest forms of oil, and it comes with many different benefits. It contains naturally occurring antioxidants such as polyphenols. These antioxidants can improve cognitive abilities such as learning and memory. Olive oil has also been shown to fight off the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds are packed with plant-based protein, healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and brain-boosting vitamin E.
  • Peanut butter: Like sunflower seeds, peanuts are another fantastic plant-based source of protein that is also rich in vitamin E.
  • Beets: Beets are rich in natural nitrates, which increase cerebral blood flow. This automatically boosts brain performance. Beets also work to fight inflammation in the brain and the whole body.
  • Celery: Celery is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It contains a compound called luteolin, which boosts mental function and protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of aging.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric is a superfood packed with anti-inflammatory benefits. It contains a naturally occurring compound called curcumin. Curcumin works to boost levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that protects the brain from cognitive and structural decline.
  • Walnuts: This brain-shaped nut packs plenty of brain-boosting benefits. It can improve your mood and memory and protect against diseases.
  • Eggs: Choline found in egg yolks is essential for healthy brain development. Choline breaks down into a chemical called betaine, which acts as a powerful mood booster.
  • Berries: Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries contain beneficial flavonoids that reduce inflammation and protect the brain from cognitive decline.
  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in folate, which protects the brain from damaging levels of homocysteine in the blood.
  • Fish: Oily fish is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that improves neuron function.
  • Avocados: Avocados are packed with healthy fats, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Vitamin E has been shown to protect against the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Coffee: Coffee is another beverage that, when consumed in moderation, can have a brain-boosting effect. Caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical messenger that makes you feel drowsy. It also improves memory function and reduces the risk of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Get Regular Exercise

Physical exercise keeps your body and parts of the brain healthy. It doesn’t just boost your muscles. It also increases the growth of new cerebral blood vessels and protects the health of your existing brain cells. Plus, it reduces inflammation around the body, including in your brain.

New research has also found that regular exercise is an important part of the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

As a writer, I have a very sedentary job, so making sure I get adequate exercise is particularly important for me. So, I try to ensure I exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes each day. I don’t always have time to go to the gym, but even a brisk walk with my dog counts towards my weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, as recommended by the CDC.

Keep Your Brain Active

Keeping your body active has a positive impact on your cognitive process. But don’t forget; exercising your brain also keeps your mind sharp and your memory fine-tuned.

Brain-boosting workouts can include things like Sudoku puzzles and crosswords, quizzes and brain games, and board games such as Scrabble. You could also pick up a new hobby that challenges your cognitive abilities, such as learning how to play a musical instrument or speak a new language.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Deep and restful sleep is an essential part of keeping your brain healthy and happy. When I experience sleep loss, my brain power suffers as a result. The more tired I am, the more susceptible I am to depression, irritability, brain fog, and forgetfulness.

So, in an effort to stave off menopause brain fog, I try to optimize my sleep cycle and get the recommended 7-9 hours per night. This helps me to stay as sharp as possible and also benefits my overall physical and emotional health.

Here are some tips for regular, restful sleep.

  • Avoid using blue light-emitting devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops for at least one hour before you go to bed
  • Cut out caffeine in the afternoons
  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, even on weekends
  • Keep the lights low in the evening. Bright lights can disrupt your circadian rhythms and reduce levels of melatonin
  • Practice relaxing mindfulness, meditation, or yoga
  • Get plenty of exercise during the day

FAQs

Q. When should I worry about menopausal memory loss?

Loss of memory is a normal part of perimenopause. In most cases, once you enter postmenopausal, your brain will recover, and your cognitive function will return to normal. 
However, if the loss of memory issue continues for postmenopausal women or becomes severe, talk to your doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious issue such as dementia.

Q. Can hormone therapy help menopause-related memory loss?

In some more severe cases of forgetfulness, your doctor may recommend a low dose of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT can replace the missing estrogen, which leads to cognitive impairments such as poor memory and dementia. It can also help to alleviate a whole host of other menopause symptoms too. 
But HRT comes with a considerable list of side effects, and for some people, the risks outweigh the benefits.

Q. What are some other causes of memory loss?

If you’re going through climacteric and you’ve noticed you’re becoming more forgetful, try not to worry. Chances are your forgetfulness is just a temporary side effect of hormonal changes.
That being said, several other factors can cause or add to the loss of memory. These include: 
Depression
Certain medications
Excessive alcohol use
Overactive thyroid
Head injury
Infections
Fever
Drug use
Stress
Insomnia

Conclusion

Memory loss is a common symptom during perimenopause.

Many women, myself included, find themselves misplacing objects or forgetting names and appointments. But usually, these kinds of memory issues will resolve themselves once menopause is complete. There is a connection between menopause and memory loss which most women in perimenopause suffer from. 

That being said, if you’re concerned about loss of memory, speak to your doctor. They can help you to identify the reasons behind your issues and tailor a treatment plan for you.

Reference:

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.