‘Oops! That train just went off the track. Hold on, my thought balloon popped. Hang on just a second, it’s right on the tip of my tongue.’ How many times have you uttered those words? Does it seem that what was once crystal clear in your mind now seems, shall we say—a little fuzzy?
Welcome to memory loss. It’s the real deal and can impact how well you perform tasks such as adding up a tip after a restaurant meal, paying attention during long drives or plowing through a challenging book.
Here’s What Gives
As hormones fluctuate in your body during menopause, cognitive functions are affected. Doctors say self-reported memory problems are common in women 33-55. Additionally, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) showed that the cognitive decline you think you feel is real, coupled with the fact that it is also more difficult to learn new things as you go through menopause. However the good news is that the study suggests that this cognitive decline might be time-limited, so as you near the later stages of menopause, you do feel more clarity. The study says hormone replacement therapy works better when you begin early on, say before your last period or by 53 years of age and might have a detrimental effect if you begin hormones much later in the game—three or four years after your last period.
The University of Rochester Medical Center released information that shows what women perceive as memory problems, may actually be related to your ability to learn new information. This is called ‘encoding’ and can lead you to believe that your memory is going, going, gone.
Plus, there can be underlying issues such as depression that affect how you encode new information during menopause. Turns out your mental state of well-being has an impact on your mood and even disturbances in your sleep. More evidence that treating your depression is even more critical during menopause.
Study or no study, I can tell you once I went on bioidentical HRT my brain fog lifted and I was a fully functioning again!
Fight or Flight: Trouble Around Every Corner
So, realizing that mood disorders and depression really do impact cognitive function, what’s the best way to handle it? Well, you know those signs you see in gift shops everywhere that say, “Keep Calm and Carry On?” There is a reason they’re so popular. It is extremely important to settle down, stay focused and remember the critical information, while letting go of the other stuff.
We’re overloaded with activities, which can send our bodies into ‘fight or flight,’ which in turn sends corticosteroids into overdrive. These are the hormones we all secrete during adverse events. They’re okay for a while, but if you stay on high alert, they hang around like a bad dream. Best not to get stressed over every little thing because memory is connected to the very way that we funnel our emotions. Each time you process, encode and retrieve information, it is based on emotions and anxiety.
Let it Go
Reduced rumination, or just plain old worrying, can be dealt with through mindfulness-based stress reduction or MSBR. You can reach that state through meditation and it’s extremely helpful in lowering blood pressure and minimizing the effects of depression.
Here are some other great tips to help you remember:
- Drink red wine and eat dark chocolate! The active ingredient resveratrol helps improve memory. If you’ve put on a few pounds during menopause, take heart. It works better, on overweight adults, says the study.
- Exercise! Better heart health is associated with improved cognitive health.
- Learn to speak another language.
- Play the piano or guitar: musical arts training and cognition are inter-related.
Bottom line—help yourself as best you can by staying physically active, mentally active (think crossword puzzles or word games) and learn to let go of things over which you have no control.
Ruth Curran, the author of Cranium Crunches, talked with me about embracing perceived weaknesses, by treating them as strengths. This has to do with metamemory, which requires you to recognize your ‘failings’ and turn those ‘deficits’ into greatness. If you acknowledge which parts of the memory process affects you most, such as focusing on tasks ore keying in to the point of a story, you’ll understand what needs work. Pay attention to what mental tasks are challenging for you. Once you understand your own metamemory it’s good to work on brain teasers daily or work with a cognitive therapist.
Finally, when your memory does begin to improve, remember to take a deep breath…and relax!
Suffering in Silence is Out! Reaching Out is In!