Episode 32: Brain fog, memory loss and menopause
If you can’t remember where you put your keys, struggling with brain fog and having trouble getting your words out you might be worried that you are literally losing your mind and this can be a frightening prospect for any woman, particularly when we’re undergoing a significant hormonal transition.
Today I want to reassure you that your marbles are relatively safe… at least for now!
The research around the effect of changing estrogen levels on our brain is relatively limited, as seems to be the case with so many women’s health related conditions, but the GOOD NEWS is there are definitely differentiations between age related cognitive decline and the menopause related brain changes.
To be clear, dementia or neurocognitive disorder, as it’s now termed, has a neuropathology of disease, in the form of plaques and tangles in the brain, which is not what’s going on in menopause.
During perimenopause and menopause the brain is adjusting to having less oestrogen. Layer this on top of a lack of sleep, a stressful or unhappy period and let’s face it, there’s just a lot going on at this time of life!
This can temporarily leave us with a slowing down of memory retrieval, which makes us feel forgetful. So naturally we jump on Dr Google and automatically assume the worst!
So, next time you can’t find your keys, or you’ve lost your words, or you think you’re losing your marbles, give yourself some slack and relax… it’s more likely you’ve got a lot on your plate.
Links and resources:
For more information head over to Dr Nicola Gates, a clinical neuropsychologist, and her amazing book A Brain for Life.
You can follow The Hormone Hub podcast over on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Amazon or wherever you’re listening right now.
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Hello everyone and welcome back to the Hormone Hub. It is your host Kylie Pinwill here, and today we are going to jump in and talk about [00:01:00] memory loss, brain fog, menopause, what it means and why it is very unlikely that you actually have dementia. So when we are, you know, going through all these hormonal changes, you know, I hear it quite a lot and you know, women sort of say, Oh my God, you know, I think I’ve got dementia. Now just because we can’t remember where we put our car keys, just because we can’t remember why we walked into the kitchen just because we sit down in front of the computer and look at what we were doing and, you know, all our tabs are open and we can’t remember exactly what we are doing, it doesn’t mean that we have dementia. Okay? So it can be a scary situation to be in, you know, for me, I know that, you know, I’ll be recording a podcast and then all of a sudden I’ll lose my words. So when you hear very big pauses from me, it’s likely that my brain [00:02:00] has gone blank and I’ve forgotten what I was saying.
But I have recently read an amazing book by Dr. Nicola Gates, and she wrote a book called A Brain for Life, and she’s a neuropsychologist, and had a look at the brain hormone connections. Now this is going to be reassuring for a lot of us out there, and myself included, my grandmother had dementia and it really isn’t a pathway that I wanna go down.
And, you know, I’ve had moments where I’ve thought, Oh my God, has it started already? All right, so first off I just want to sort of clarify, so dementia or what they call it now, neurocognitive disorder is, you know, a real, or the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s. Okay? And Alzheimer’s counts for about 70% of all cases.
Now what happens when your brain has dementia or has Alzheimer’s is they, they do an [00:03:00] MRI and they’re looking for plaque on your brain. They’re looking for tangles in your brain connectors, okay, now that is not going, what’s going on in menopause. So I just wanted to sort of, you know, first up, say that dementia is a, you know, it’s a neuropathological condition, it’s a disease state, and it’s got actual physical problems in the brain. Okay? Now, when we’re going through menopause and perimenopause, this is our brain adjusting to less estrogen. Okay? So there’s no plaque, you know, going on in our brain, there’s no tangles going up in our, our, you know, little brain connectors.
Okay. It’s about changes in hormones. Okay? So I just wanted to sort of throw it out there. Now, there’s plenty of reasons why we forget things, okay? And definitely in menopause with that drop in estrogen, there can be a slowing down of memory [00:04:00] retrieval. Okay. But it’s also important to note it’s not just menopause.
Okay? There’s a lot going on and you know, women often feel, you know, if we think about it when we are stressed or when we’re unhappy, or when we’ve just got too much going on in our life, it can make us forgetful. Okay. And then sometimes, you know, because, you know, we’re in the age of Dr. Google and, you know, we can access all this great information, it can lead us to going, you know, straight to worst case scenario.
All right? So if we’re under stress, we can’t remember things, we Google it and you know, bang, we’ve diagnosed ourselves with dementia. Okay, now you know what, instead, what we need to do if we feel like we’re getting forgetful is go, You know what? I’ve actually got a lot on my plate. I need to give myself some slack and I need to relax a bit.
And you know, we all know that the more stressed we get about [00:05:00] things we, you know, it makes sense, right? That our memory performance would go down. So, I think it’s important to know also that as long with dementia being, you know, sort of a, a disease state in the brain, you know, with the plaque, with the tangles, you know, also too, only 5% like of all sort of dementia diagnosis are under the age of 65. So we’re in the wrong age bracket. Okay. If we were over 65, over 70, you know, over 80, it’s a different conversation. But you know, for the majority, for 95%, you know, we’re in the wrong age group. Okay. So just sort of have that as a bit of reassurance that things actually are probably okay. So yeah, one’s a normal process that transition through menopause, that change in estrogen, and the other is a disease process. Okay, so let’s have a look at what else is going on in your life that [00:06:00] could be contributing to the sense that you are forgetting. Okay. So one thing you know is if we’re not sleeping well and we are already tired, it’s going to be harder for us to retrieve those memories.
All right, so they’ve done, you know, lots of studies. So one of the studies that Nicola Gates looked at was, you know, in the workplace. And they had a look, and women, there was actually no change in their level of cognitive function or their capacity to work, you know, on different projects. Okay. So, and they did all these neuroscience tests and when, you know, they sort of did that, and when they’re saying there’s no change, you know, it’s not to dismiss anyone’s experience, it’s not to invalidate anyone’s experience.
Certainly, you know, not in your head, but you know, maybe it’s because of other reasons. Maybe it’s because we are more tired. Maybe it is because, and this is a big one, there’s [00:07:00] a loss of confidence going on. Okay. So I think that’s a, you know, that’s a big one to kind of be aware of and you know, our actual ability to do things hasn’t changed, but our confidence in our ability has changed.
And I think that’s a, a really good or an important distinction, between, you know, menopause brain fog and memory loss, and dementia. Okay. So yeah, hopefully you’re all sort of thinking, Okay, alright. It’s not, it’s not me, it’s my hormones. Okay. But definitely, you know, as our brain adjusts to lower levels of estrogen, there is a slowing down of that memory retrieval.
But, you know, but also be aware that, you know, we’ve got a lot of other stuff going. So I hope this is sort of reassuring a little bit . Okay. Now a couple of caveats is, you know, they don’t actually have a lot of research on women’s brains, you know, and [00:08:00] hormonal changes and how estrogen impacts our brains.
They haven’t even done the research on female rats because, you know, fluctuating hormones too hard. So even the rats are too hard. So you can just imagine, you know, how much research has been done on actual women and it’s, you know, the research that is coming out, you know, it is exciting because it’s new, because we’ve never had this before.
But it’s, it’s only like coming out now, so, you know, they don’t have a long history of it, so, you know, it’s exciting that they’re actually doing it. Now what they’re having a look at, you know, the impact of estrogen and our brains is they’re sort of having a look at, you know, estrogen as also as a, like a, has neurotransmitter functions.
So all of our, our happy mood hormones, so all of our serotonin, our endorphins, our oxytocin, is all sort of, you know, estrogen is a big part [00:09:00] of regulating that and also with our memory and our recall. So, and remember, this is all super, super new, you know, research. It’s really evolving as we speak.
It’s so, you know, reading books, you know, obviously I’m, well I haven’t read the research, but I’m relying on the fact that Dr. Gates has read the research. And you know, one thing they were sort of looking at is why memory process and learning was so impacted by menopause. And, you know, women do feel forgetful or they feel like they’re having trouble remembering things.
But, you know, is it the change in hormones that impacts our memory process and learning? Now what one thing that they’re looking at is, you know, also during pregnancy. So if you have been pregnant or you know, have had a friend or family member pregnant, or maybe you’ve heard the term baby brain, you know, again, this was a big time in our life when we had that fluctuation in estrogen [00:10:00] and, you know, we forgot things when we were pregnant.
We, you know, and it was just written off as baby brain. So, yeah, so it’s, it’s, it’s good to kind of like know that they’re making that connection. And again, it’s not so much that we’re forgetting, it’s just, you know, we have to just work a little bit harder at memory retrieving, but also remember, you know, we’re multitasking all the time.
We’re, you know, toggling between different activities and different tasks. So, you know, women in general, you know, we’ve been told that we can multitask. We’ve been told that we can do it all. We have been told that we can do all these things that actually isn’t the best thing for our brain. Okay. So that’s the, what they’re looking at, you know, during menopause and, you know, they’re, they’re also sort of seeing that, you know, estrogen is sort of like a buffer between our brain and our, our memories that, that we’re adjusting. It’s an adjustment period.
Okay. So, you know, so the, the good thing is, you know, estrogen actually, and one thing that they’re looking at is estrogen has a positive sort of, impact. So it can help prevent the formation of the plaques that happen, you know, during dementia.
So [00:12:00] that’s, that’s a good thing. And then, you know, they’re looking at the benefits of HRT and, you know, sort of like a, a estrogen hormone therapy. Can actually help in, you know, prevent dementia. But again, the research is really new. And, you know, there’s still a lot of things that they have to, to look at.
So, you know, how long do we stay on HRT for, you know, does it have a be, is there a benefit to, to being on it long term or, you know, they don’t know yet. So, again, this is something that, you know, we are gonna have the benefit of the research that’s coming out now. Whereas, you know, our mothers wouldn’t have had that.
So, and the other thing that they looked at, which was really interesting, I thought was, you know, once we’ve been through menopause and our hormones have settled down, you know, we are not having those big fluctuations was our brain waves become very similar to men because we don’t have, you know, those that up and down kind of[00:13:00] , the fluctuations in our hormones that our brain would’ve had. So, you know, when we kind of come through the other side of menopause, you know, our brains are very much on a, and, and I know similar pathway to men isn’t the right word, but it’s, I guess the consist the hormonal consistency is there. So even though there is, you know, they do know that there’s differences between male and female brains, you know, it’s those hormones that drive a lot of those, those differentiations and then postmenopause, they come back and, you know, are even again.
So yeah, so I just wanted to sort of put that out there. But some of the, the, I guess the, the protective things, Postmenopause, you know, also too, like it’s good to know that our cardiovascular risks become the same postmenopause, our osteoporosis, you know, risks become, you know, very similar to men as well.
So, you know, so we lose some [00:14:00] of the benefits, postmenopause, but there are also some positives. And so it’s good to know that, you know, like perimenopause, menopause, it’s a transition experience, so your brain is adjusting to different levels of hormones. And then on the other side of this, your brain won’t have the fluctuations.
Your moods and even emotions will be more steady as well. For some women who suffer migraines, those migraines become less postmenopause as well because you don’t have those fluctuations in hormones. Okay, so short and sweet today and yeah, hopefully this sort of reassures you that, you know, you are not going crazy, you are not necessarily going into early dementia, it is a normal sort of transition as your memory recall, you know, just adjust to that change in hormone levels and also too, you know, good to know that we’re busy. We’ve got a lot going on. So ladies, for the love [00:15:00] of all things, please be kind to yourself. Give yourself some slack. It’s okay to relax. It’s ok to take a breather. Hope you found this helpful and I’ll see you in the next episode.