Is there a link between menopause and dementia?
As if experiencing hot flashes wasn’t enough for women going through perimenopause and menopause, many women also find themselves forgetting names, appointments and other key information.
This so-called “brain fog” is common and annoying. But does it mean you’re at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias? Simply put: No. As of now, there’s no known direct link between menopause and dementia.
However, research presented earlier this year at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference indicated that the disease may spread differently in the brains of women than in men.
What we do know is that the biggest risk factor for developing dementia is advancing age, and more women than men have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Of the 5.6 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.5 million are women and 2.1 million are men, according to the most recent stats from the Alzheimer’s Association.
But it’s not really well understood how the hormone changes related to menopause could contribute to cognitive functioning.
What exactly is brain fog?
Brain fog has been described as being forgetful and having trouble concentrating.
Small declines in memory, processing speed and organizational skills are all part of normal aging. But these small impairments shouldn’t interfere with your ability to function at work or with day-to-day activities.
However, other issues that can go along with perimenopause – such as depression, anxiety, problems with sleep or stress – are known causes of cognitive impairment.
What can you do to reduce brain fog?
Women should make sure to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly – both body and brain. Reduce stress. Treat any anxiety or depression and treat sleep apnea, if present.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how to safely reduce or eliminate any medications that are known to impair cognition.
What can you do to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia?
In addition to the suggestions above, women should make sure all modifiable risk factors for dementia are addressed, including not smoking and not abusing alcohol or other substances.
Also, it’s important to maintain optimal brain health by preventing or treating high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Stay socially active and engage in mental activities and games to keep your mind sharp. We like to tell our patients to “Use it or lose it.”
Other tips include enjoying fresh air and good food with family and friends, and avoiding head injuries by wearing helmets while riding bikes or scooters.
When should you seek treatment?
Cognitive issues become concerning when they start to interfere with your ability to function in day-to-day life. New problems with short-term memory, work performance, using technology or managing finances are examples of red flags that would warrant an evaluation with a neurologist to determine what, if any, cognitive problems you may have.
If you’re concerned with your memory or thinking abilities, you should talk to your primary care provider. Screening tools, such as the SAGE Test developed by researchers at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center can be used to help identify early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Jessica Truelove is a certified nurse practitioner specializing in Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.