Getting Forgetful? Might Be Menopause

Those hot flashes and sudden lapses in memory may be more connected than you thought, say researchers.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

The words are on the tip of your tongue… but nope, they escape you. Sound familiar? Your memory problems could be related to menopause, according to a new study.

In fact, a common symptom of menopause—hot flashes—may be linked to memory problems, according to a new study in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Specifically, the research found that those tell-tale flushes of heat are associated with decreased verbal memory and changes in brain function related to memory in certain parts of the brain.

Previous research has established that menopausal women may have decreased memory function—specifically related to remembering words and stories. This new study further confirmed these findings using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), looking specifically at how hot flashes affect the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, parts of the brain involved in memory tasks.

The study looked at 14 women who had gone through menopause with moderate-to-severe hot flashes. None of these women were taking hormone therapy to help with these symptoms. In addition to the MRI assessments and other physical monitoring, each woman took two verbal memory tests and filled out symptom questionnaires.

"The findings of this preliminary study, although small, support an association between objectively monitored hot flashes and adverse functional changes in the brain that affect memory,” said Stephanie Faubion, M.D., medical director at NAMS, in a news release. “Further study is needed to determine whether hot flashes actually cause these brain changes and whether treatment of hot flashes will prevent or normalize them.”

How to Manage Hot Flashes During Menopause

While we can’t yet say for sure that hot flashes are the direct cause of memory problems during menopause, it doesn’t hurt to work on ways to manage these symptoms—which, regardless of memory problems, can be downright uncomfortable and annoying.

Here are some ways to help manage your hot flashes, according to the National Institute on Aging:

  • Keep your bedroom cool. Some women find their hot flashes keep them from getting a good night’s rest. Try keeping your bedroom thermostat on the cooler side and drinking some ice water before bed to help regulate your body temperature. Choosing lighter, more breathable bedding may help too.

  • Carry a portable fan. If your hot flashes tend to strike when you’re out and about, having a small portable fan handy in your purse can be a lifesaver.

  • Quit smoking. Research finds that smoking can make menopausal symptoms like hot flashes worse.

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. Many women find these foods and drinks can trigger their hot flashes or make their menopause symptoms worse.

  • Dress in layers. If you’re wearing a light-weight t-shirt underneath your winter sweater, you can easily take off a layer for instant hot flash relief.

  • Embrace mindfulness practices. Practicing yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques may help ease your hot flashes and manage them better when they do occur, research shows.

  • Try medications. If the above techniques aren’t cutting it after a few months, your doctor may prescribe you certain drugs to help treat your hot flashes. Options include a low-dose antidepressant and hormonal replacement therapy. Your doc can help you find the right option for you and go over the risk and benefits of each.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.