Am I Losing My Mind? Or Just That Regular Time of the Month?
By Ariella Soffer, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
I was on the tennis court with a friend of mine recently and she was particularly distressed that she couldn’t remember the score and kept forgetting where her car was parked. The stress that something was wrong with her brain kept circulating, and eventually got to the point that she decided she was in early-onset stages of dementia….. turns out, she was starting to go through perimenopausal hormonal changes.
What are the cognitive changes associated with perimenopause and menopause?
(The following have been reported in cross-sectional research studies, Greendale Et. al., 2011)
problems with recall of words and numbers
disruptions in everyday behavior (e.g., losing household items)
needing to use memory aids
forgetting scheduled events (e.g., appointments)
Memory problems in menopause may be related to the decline in estrogen that occurs at this time. Estrogen contributes to language skills, attention, mood, memory, and other brain processes, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and a decrease in estrogen can have an effect on brain function. Fluctuating levels of estrogen also cause such symptoms as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, depression, and mood swings, some of which can also negatively affect cognitive function. For example, sleep disturbances caused by menopause symptoms appear to contribute to brain fog.
Many women become frightened or stressed when they begin to develop cognitive changes, and stress has consistently been demonstrated to exacerbate cognitive dysfunction. As soon as that “regular time of the month” becomes less like clockwork, many women begin to anticipate that menopause is around the corner and this is not typically welcome news.
Approximately 20% of our practice is treating perinatal mental health disorders, which includes pregnancy, postpartum, and hormonal changes associated with menopause in women. All of these conditions involve hormonal changes that impact mood and cognitive functioning. Many women with menopause-related brain fog tend to forget recently learned verbal information and have trouble concentrating. Common complaints include drawing a blank on the names of people you just met or forgetting what you walked into a room to do. Sound familiar from the times when you had a newborn at home you were home caring for? Many don’t realize that when you breastfeed your body is actually in a state of menopause in some ways, so some of these body and cognitive/mood changes may feel like a throwback. And for those that didn’t breastfeed, the sleep deprivation and general fatigue can also contribute to memory loss.
Rest assured, while many women become very worried that they are developing dementia or another problem with their minds, these cognitive changes are typically small and well within normal range. In a study published in the January, 2021 issue of the journal, Menopause, Pauline M. Maki and her colleagues found that in more than 400 women studied over several years, about one-third experienced a clinically significant decline in memory following menopause, but that even in those women, the level of decline was not indicative of dementia.
What can we do to counteract this memory decline?
Be aware of what’s happening, insight is power
Engage in memory games (they keep your mind active)
Find ways to destress
As always, if you are concerned, reach out. Peace of mind will always help!
Photo credit: Inside Creative House
Ariella Soffer, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who owns a group practice in Manhattan. Dr. Soffer’s practice specializes in parenting consultation, sports psychology, perinatal mental health and in addition to general mental health concerns. Soffer & Associates Comprehensive Psychological Services website can be found here: DrAriellaSoffer.com