Do you ever complain that since you’ve reached a certain age (which is code for starting to go through menopause), you’ve found that you just can’t think straight? And that some people just roll their eyes when you say this? Well, you just need to tell them that you’re not losing your mind New research reported by MedLinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is indicating that your brain fog may be real!
A new study published in the March issue of Menopause followed 75 participants between the ages of 40-60 who reported that their mental state was foggy. Of these women, 41 percent described their forgetfulness as being serious. These women then underwent a series of cognitive tests to determine whether their concerns matched the test results. The researchers found that the women who believed they were experiencing severe forgetfulness were more likely to be rated poorly on assessments of working memory and attention span. The researchers also believe that some women may experience lapses in verbal memory (used to recall a list of words) during latter stages of menopause or when suffering severe symptoms.
Interestingly, the study also found that depression and hot flashes (which can be part of menopause) were not totally the reason for the mental issues described by the women; instead, researchers believe that these issues are caused by changing hormone levels. However, the researchers noted that these memory issues can be compounded by life events that middle-age women face, including dealing with day-to-day issues (such as caring for both aging parents and teenage children) as well as poor sleep quality.
Often, my friends who experience this type of fog worry that they’re in the first stage of dementia. However, this study seems to indicate that there is no basis for this worry. The researchers noted that, unlike the middle-age women in this study, older people who are experiencing mental decline often do not identify their mental problems. Furthermore, when women finish going through menopause, their hormone levels stabilize and their memory issues go away.
So what can you do to eliminate some of the brain fog? Here are some ideas:
- Exercise - Getting out of your chair and moving tends to help the brain fog clear and also can help you sleep better. Consumer Reports.org reported. "A study of nearly 300 older adults published in December 2010 reported that those who walked at least 72 blocks, roughly six miles each week, had more gray matter than those who didn’t walk as much, and cut their risks of developing memory problems in half." So use that as an incentive to take a walk or jog, ride your bike, or do something that gets you moving for 30 minutes daily!
- Meditation - Going Zen for a period of time can also help you focus your thinking. Try these breathing exercises by Dr. Andrew Weil to get you started on meditation.
- Stop multi-tasking - Our daily to-do lists are long and we’ve become adept at juggling all those balls. But I’ve learned that trying to keep all those balls in the air when going through menopause can cause one or more to crash (and sometimes break). So far better to prioritize what you need to get done and concentrate on that one thing. Then move on to your next priority and then your next. By taking this approach, you’ll get more done and not feel frazzled from all the juggling.
- Eat better - Eating fruits, vegetables and fatty fish can be beneficial since these protect the blood vessels and encourage regeneration of nerve cells. Moderate amounts of caffeine also can improve short-term learning and help you temporarily focus, but I’d be careful not to use caffeine as a crutch since it can easily make you jittery!
The news that menopause fog is real can help middle-age women realize that they aren’t losing their mind. By taking a few steps (like exercise) they can help clear some of the fog out. And the good news is that once menopause is over, the fog should lift for good!
Medline Plus. (2012). Study suggests mental ‘fog’ of menopause is real." Bethesda, MD: The U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.