Is menopause to blame for forgetfulness?
If you’re wondering whether your forgetfulness, inability to think clearly or lack of concentration is down to menopause you could be right. Welcome to menopausal brain fog. Several studies have shown that cognitive decline at this time of your life is not uncommon which is why you may also struggle to learn new things.
Is oestrogen loss the cause of brain fog?
Recent studies in Massachusetts and Boston have found that the way women performed at certain memory tasks tended to dip as their oestrogen levels dipped. They were also shown to have different levels of activity in the hippocampus area of the brain which is responsible for memory processing.
There is also new research from Weill Cornell and the University of Arizona, showing that menopause alters the brain’s structure, energy consumption and connectivity. The good news is that the change is not permanent. “Our study suggests that the brain has the ability to find a new normal after menopause in most women,” said Lisa Mosconi, lead author of the study and an associate professor of neurology and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
The studies looked at 200 men and women aged 45 to 55 and used standard research to check memory skills as well as looking at brain activity on an MRI scanner. Both of these things confirmed that some menopausal woman who had low levels of estradiol (a form of oestrogen produced by the ovaries) were right in thinking they had memory issues.
Do all menopausal women get brain fog?
Only some women. One third of the women scored high on the memory test despite having low estradiol and “menopausal” brain activity. It is not known why this is. It could be because their brains are recruiting oestrogen from other sources, it could be that some women are resistant due to a lifetime of mental and physical exercise.
Is the memory loss permanent?
There is a further twist in these menopausal changes and that is that in some women their memory seems to just bounce back.
Can HRT help ease menopause brain fog?
Whilst this area of medicine appears to still have some secrets to unlock, some women do find taking HRT helps and in terms of what generally benefits good cognitive function there is pretty consistent advice about doing exercise as this positively influences the delivery of neurochemicals throughout the brain.
Can we eat ourselves less forgetful?
Yes, look after yourself diet wise too. Low blood sugar levels can help with concentration and there are certain food stuffs that are recognised as being beneficial for the brain such as oily fish or a handful of almonds.
Any other tips for brain fog?
Think about taking up a new activity to challenge your brain like learning a language or a musical instrument. Finally don’t make things worse, make sure you are getting plenty of rest and relaxation rather than perpetually running at top gear.
What about brain fog in the workplace?
“Many of the women that I work with are reluctant to talk about their symptoms in the workplace,” says health campaigner Diane Danzebrink. “Some fear being considered less able or productive. Or they have a male manager who they don’t feel able to approach. Other women prefer to keep their health concerns completely private and choose to not share them in the workplace, no matter how sympathetic the environment might be.
“Thankfully there has been a bit of progress in the last few years. There has been a Government report into menopause and its effects on women in the workplace. Also, the release of The Guidance on Menopause and The Workplace from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
“The guidelines provide some very helpful information and advice for both employers and women. These include considering flexible working and encouraging discussion. I would go further. Employers need to provide a supportive pathway for women and make everyone in the organisation aware that it exists.”
Don’t be a brain fog drop out
A 2019 survey carried out by Dr Louise Newson’s Newson Health Clinic, revealed that 95% of respondents felt that their menopause symptoms negatively impacted their work. Despite this, 76% of the respondents’ workplaces did not offer any menopause support for employees. No surprise that one third of the women had considered cutting back their hours or leaving the workplace completely.
“Yes, having time off work is good,” says Dr Louise Newson. “But actually, as most women can have HRT, it is even better to have their hormones balanced. They need to be given the right education and support, and the right combination of diet, exercise and wellbeing advice. This means that they can not only stay at work but they can probably do a far better job.
“Personally, if I hadn’t managed my menopause, I would not have been working because my brain was gone. My memory was poor, my concentration was poor, my motivation was reduced. So even if I’d had flexible working, with proper management, I would have stayed at home and stared at the four walls. Yet when it is managed probably, women thrive at work.”
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“I regularly go into workplaces to deliver education sessions on menopause. The questions at the end are generally about treatment options, not how women can change their hours,” says Diane Danzebrink. “The underlying issue here is a lack of education for the general public and health professionals. This results in women and their employers often not recognising what is happening to them and not knowing what they can do to help themselves.”
So talk to your HR department and see what can be done to raise levels of awareness and understanding. They owe it to all employees to be better at supporting women through this.
Be proactive at work
Jill Ross is a managing director in Accenture for retail in the UK and Ireland and a Trustee of Women in Retail. She worked with MPowered Women on Accenture’s first ever event on World Menopause Day 2019. She was the one to “challenge” the company.
“I’m in my mid 40s and very aware of the next life stage I’m about to enter,” says Jill. She wanted to do something to prepare herself. “Women are working for longer and we have more senior women than ever in the workplace. I thought, how do we start breaking the taboo?”
The event was a success on several fronts for Jill. it allowed Accenture to face the issue head on. It also created “a supportive and informative space for women”, she says. and for the men attending. It meant that the whole workforce was educated and aligned.
“A couple of women who attended then went back to their GP to discover what they thought had been anxiety around a new promotion had in fact been menopausal symptoms.”
Ultimately, if you’re struggling at work or in your private life with anxiety, lack of concentration, feeling tired, unconfident and generally low, you are not losing your mind. You can do something to feel better.
READ MORE What are the 34 menopause symptoms?
It’s not your ability, it’s your hormones, which means your GP can help you with the best ways to get your mojo back. So make an appointment and take back control.
Find out more about Dr Stephanie Goodwin and her London-based GP practice here.