U of R researcher discovers cognitive changes in menopause

Does Mom seem a little “off” to you? Don’t worry.  Just because the woman who has been your living schedule book is suddenly unable to comprehend simple daily tasks, it’s not as abnormal as it may seem. Her brain may be a little cloudy and there may be a scientific reason behind it.

Dr. Miriam Weber, neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester, recently led a study published in the journal, Menopause, the official journal of the North American Menopause Society.  This study, one of only a small handful, found that the difficulties many women describe as memory problems when menopause approaches are in fact real.

Dr. Weber’s team, which consisted of scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago, conducted a series of vigorous cognitive tests on 75 female participants between the ages of 40 and 60 who were approaching or beginning menopause. The study found that women’s complaints of memory loss were linked to certain types of memory deficits, specifically in working memory – the ability to manipulate new information, such as calculating gratuity after a restaurant meal or adjusting to schedule conflicts.

During the studies, scientists also found memory difficulties to be connected to a decreased attention span among women during menopause, particularly where more challenging tasks were at hand, like filing taxes or keeping alert during a longer than average drive.  Although when one typically hears “memory loss”, cognitive processes are not typically what come to mind, it can be extremely frustrating for women experiencing them.  According to Dr. Weber,

“The most important thing to remember is that there really are some cognitive changes that occur during this phase of a woman’s life.  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.”

Dr. Weber’s study is significant, not only because it brings these “brain fog” difficulties to light, but it is also one of the first to thoroughly investigate the transitional phase that is menopause.  Dr. Weber, does, however, offer some advice to women experiencing these cognitive memory issues:

“When someone gives you a new piece of information, it might be helpful to repeat it out loud, or for you to say it back to the person to confirm it – it will help you hold onto that information longer. You need to do a little more work to make sure the information gets into your brain permanently. It may help to realize that you shouldn’t expect to be able to remember everything after hearing it just once.”

So remember – if mom is a little more forgetful these days, be patient with her. As frustrating as it may be for you, it’s twice as frustrating for her.  Additionally, if this is a first for you and mom, consider yourself lucky! I’m 27, decades away from my “change of life”, and I still can’t figure out how to tip properly or file my taxes without TurboTax.

By Jillian Seaton

Jillian is a recovering sorority girl/cheerleader and an aspiring trophy wife/crazy cat lady who somehow found herself in the magical land of auto dealership marketing and family portraits. Her true passions in life are writing, whiskey, music (especially good ol' rock 'n roll), and cheese. Jillian's life goals include saving the world from cancer and becoming the best astronaut ever.