Age May Be Factor as To Hormone Therapy's Effect on Cognitive Function

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Are you worried increasingly worried about losing your cognitive ability as you go through menopause? But what about those hot flashes? Can treatment of the hot flashes cause mental decline? It turns out that a new study is suggesting that the age may be the determining factor on whether hormone replacement therapy may affect your brain.

    A study supported by the National Institutes of Health called the The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study of Younger Women (WHIMSY) found that estrogen therapy didn’t have a long-term risk or a benefit to cognitive function among younger postmenopausal women who took it. These results are different from an earlier Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study of Women (WHIMS) that found the same type of hormone therapy was linked to cognitive decline and dementia in postmenopausal women who are older.

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    WHIMS was conducted as part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), which enrolled women from 1993 to 1998 at 40 academic research centers. Participants were divided into groups. One group who had had a hysterectomy received equine estrogens. The participants in a second group had a uterus and received estrogens plus a synthetic progestin. The study also had companion control groups that were given placebos.

    In comparison, WHIMSY, which is an extension of WHIMS, had 1,326 participants who joined the WHI between the ages of 50 and 55. They continued to participate in the study for an average of seven years. These women were then asked to participate in an assessment of cognitive approximately seven years later. Phone interviews that assessed on cognitive function were conducted with 1,168 women. The researchers looked at participants’ global cognitive function (measures of memory, problem-solving skills and other cognitive skills), verbal memory attention, executive function, verbal fluency and working memory. The researchers performed the first assessment when participants were approximately 67.2 years of age. The second assessment was conducted when they were, on average, 68.1 years.

    In the WHIMSY analysis, researchers didn’t find a meaningful difference in average global cognitive function between the women who had taken hormone therapy (including synthetic progestin) and the women who had taken a placebo.
    In comparison, the WHIMS study found that there were risks to cognitive capabilities when hormone therapy was prescribed to older women. “The WHIMS study found that estrogen-based postmenopausal hormone therapy produced deficits in cognitive function and increased risk for dementia when prescribed to women 65 and older,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.

    “In contrast to findings in older postmenopausal women, this study tells women that taking these types of estrogen-based hormone therapies for a relatively short period of time in their early postmenopausal years may not put them at increased risk for cognitive decline over the long term,” said Dr. Susan Resnick, chief of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, in NIA’s Intramural Research Program and a co-author of the study. “Further, it is important to note that we did not find any cognitive benefit after long-term follow-up.”

  • The WHIMSY researchers will continue to follow the study participants through annual telephone interviews to see if previous hormone therapy has longer term effects on cognitive function over time.

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    The WHIMSY researchers encourage women who are considering hormone therapy to consult their physician about the best options for them as well as potential diseases they may be at risk for if taking hormone therapy.

    In addition, older women really need to focus on making lifestyle changes to maintain their cognitive function since aging is a well-established risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and many other neurological diseases. These changes include eating a heart-healthy diet that is low in fat and low in cholesterol. The Alzheimer’s Association points out that mounting evidence is suggesting that a diet that is rich in dark vegetables and fruits may protect brain cells, thanks to the antioxidants. In addition, physical activity helps bolster brain health. Other changes that older women should embrace include staying mentally active, lowering stress and remaining socially active.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Alzheimer’s Association. (nd.). Brain health.

    National Institutes of Health. (2013). Estrogen therapy has no long-term effect on cognition in younger postmenopausal women.

Published On: June 29, 2013