Menopause can mess with your memory, and a new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center has identified four profiles of cognitive function that may help researchers understand why memory declines for some women and not others. This adds to the mounting evidence of the memory changes that can happen when menopause approaches and could lead to better guidance and treatment for patients experiencing memory issues.
“If we understand what goes on cognitively for women during this time, we can help normalize the experience,” said Miriam Weber, Ph.D., associate professor of Neurology and Obstetrics and Gynecology who is the first author of the study published in the journal Climacteric.
Menopause symptoms can include memory issues
Researchers collected data from 85 women ages 40–60 who were approaching or at the beginning of menopause. Women self-reported menopausal symptoms, had hormone levels measured, and took cognitive tests biannually for up to nine years. The data led investigators to identify four profiles of cognitive function a woman may experience: normal cognition, weakness in verbal learning and memory (the ability to learn new information and retain it over time), strength in verbal learning and memory, and strength in attention and executive function (the ability to multitask).
“This profile analysis could help identify populations that are at risk and enable us to perform prompt interventions,” said Weber. “This may also give us insight into future diagnosis—for example, who may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future. We know that women are most at risk for the disease, and knowing how cognition is impacted at this stage may help us identify who is at an increased risk of cognitive decline in later life.”
Researchers found that women experiencing a strength profile (strength in either verbal learning and memory or attention and executive function) had fewer depressive symptoms and hot flashes, while those experiencing cognitive weakness reported more sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression.
Weber’s previous work found that some women approaching menopause experienced declines in working memory—the ability to take in new information and manipulate it in their heads, and a woman’s ability to keep and focus attention on a challenging task. But these declines were not directly linked to hormones, according to Weber’s studies.
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