It’s not in your head: Menopausal memory loss is real.
Many menopausal women have trouble with working memory, as well as keeping themselves focused, according to a recent study from the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. (Watch Ellen on the TODAY Show discussing the research!) After reviewing perimenopausal and menopausal women completing a variety of cognitive tests, researchers found that many women had trouble taking in new information and manipulating it in their heads. That translates to problems with even some of the most basic real-life tasks, like calculating a tip after a restaurant meal or adjusting an itinerary after unexpected flight changes.
“If a woman approaching menopause feels she is having memory problems, no one should brush it off or attribute it to a jam-packed schedule. She can find comfort in knowing that there are new research findings that support her experience. She can view her experience as normal,” lead researcher Miriam Weber, Ph.D., said in a statement. Between one-third and two-thirds of women report forgetfulness and other memory difficulties during perimenopause and menopause, according to Weber.
Knowing that your symptoms are “normal” can be a huge relief. After all, the only thing worse than feeling like you are losing your mind is feeling like you are the only one going through the situation. Still, “normal” doesn’t always mean “good.”
Here are five natural ways to help overcome some of these issues and have a sharp mind during menopause:
1. Access Your Memory
“Those who understand the memory process are more likely to employ strategies to improve their memory,” says Ruth Curran, creator of Cranium Crunches brain-training games. Knowledge about memory, called “metamemory,” requires really examining your memory and embracing your strengths and weaknesses. “Sometimes ‘thinking inside the box’—seeing and recognizing our ‘failings’—helps us embrace the way we function right now and make something great out of what we might otherwise see as ‘deficits.’ We need to give ourselves permission to embrace the way we are and maximize our potential,” Curran says. Is your problem focus? Picking out the most important part of someone’s story? Pay attention to what mental tasks are challenging for you. Once you know them you can work by yourself or with a cognitive therapist so that you can best use your unique brain, she says.
2. Play Games
Memory games aren’t just for kids. “There is growing evidence (based on functional MRI studies) that mental exercise helps rebalance and rewire the brain,” says Curran. For example, Cranium Crunches, which she developed in response to the cognitive decline she observed in her parents as a result of chemotherapy and Parkinsonian-dementia, uses cognitive puzzles that mimic everyday life to hone your day-to-day attention and processing skills, make new brain connections, and generally up your brainpower. Other websites including Luminosity, Posit Science, Happy Neuron, and CogniFit also offer fun brainteasers for cognitive health.
3. Break a Sweat
Exercise is good for both your body and brain! Physical exercise influences the delivery of neurochemicals throughout the brain that regulate memory (and are directly affected by hormone levels), Curran says. In fact, a recent study in Neuroscience found that running increases levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports neurological health and encourages the growth of new brain cells. Meanwhile, weight training increases levels of insulin-like growth factor, another protein in the brain that promotes cell division, growth, and health. It’s your move: Combine both cardiovascular and strength training into your schedule.
4. Eat Right
Your brain runs on food. Feed it right. Research from Oregon Health and Science University shows that people with diets high in vitamins B, C, D, and E and in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to suffer from brain shrinkage and other abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s disease, while people who consume diets high in trans fats—often found in fast, frozen, and processed foods—are more likely to have low scores on thinking and memory tests. Check out the best foods for menopausal health.
No, seriously, it can work! A recent study from the University of California, Santa Barbara found that meditation—aka mindfulness training—improves working memory and mind wandering—the two biggest brain problems women experience during perimenopause and menopause. In the study, subjects completed a two-week mindfulness course that involved daily meditation exercises (think: focusing on sensory experiences such as the feeling of breathing, the taste of a piece of fruit, or the sound of an audio recording). Meditation can help restore a healthy chemical and electrical balance in the brain, Curran says. Try these three easy meditation tips.
True self care is about more than your body. It’s about your mind, which is the control center for everything you think, do, and are. Clear cognitive health allows you to be your healthiest, happiest self. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss brain fog with late nights, busy schedules, and to-do lists worthy of a personal assistant, but you owe it to yourself to stop making excuses and to get to the real cause. Remember, just because your challenges are “normal” doesn’t mean you can’t ease them. Be your own best friend—take good care of yourself!
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!