Julia Louis-Dreyfus 1.13.1961

Posts Tagged ‘cognitive test’

Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder

12.8.11

Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.

 

Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.

 

So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.

 

The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.

Memory Tip #1 Stop Worrying!

3.17.11

Feeling like your memory has gone MIA? It may be time to… get over it!

Memory declines with age and a few “menopause moments” are completely normal. Now, if you are still thinking: my memory is REALLY bad or I’ve completely lost it …PLEASE STOP!


The worst thing that you can do is to become self-critical. Don’t beat yourself up every time  you’ve forgotten something you think you should have remembered.  All this worrying about your memory and feeling like you’re not as good as you should be can lead to anxiety and depression, both of which are bad for your brain.


In fact, emotional distress can make your memory worse!


If you are very worried that you’re having memory problems or others have complained to you about your memory, you may want to get tested. Ask your primary care physician to refer you to a neuropsychologist for a neuropsychological assessment (doc-speak for memory testing).  A good neuropsychological assessment will take a few hours, but in the end, you’ll have a good sense of how you are performing when compared to other people your age. A word of warning: neuropsychological assessments are expensive. Find out what your insurance will cover before you’re left with a colossal bill, more stress, and even worse memory!


If you are willing to become involved in research you can often get a free neuropsychological assessment at your local Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). These centers are funded by the National Institute on Aging and located throughout the US at major medical institutions.

Here at the University of Southern California our ADRC is part of our Memory and Aging Center (MAC) with locations in Los Angeles, Downey and Rancho Mirage. If you want more information about our center, link to our website or call Nadine Diaz, MSW at (323) 442-7600.


Green Movement: Take Your Mushy Mind Outside

5.28.10

shutterstock_girl-in-nature When I’m faced with a mental roadblock or just feeling a bit fuzzy upstairs, I take a walk.  Afterwards, I usually feel more relaxed and clear headed. Little did I know that my cognitive functioning was also improving! A recent study in Psychological Science reported that cognitive functioning improves after people interact with nature.  They had their participants do a complex mental task involving memorizing a list of things and mentally changing the order of the items around. Then half of the participants went on a walk through a park while the other half walked through an urban setting (downtown Ann Arbor). When they came back, they repeated the tests. Lo and behold, scores of those who walked through the park significantly improved while those of the city walkers didn’t. Oh, it gets better. Those of you without easy access to nature need not despair, because it turns out that they got the same effect using pictures of nature versus pictures of urban settings!

As you may have already noticed, menopause doesn’t just wreak havoc on your body, but your mind, too. So the next time you find yourself in a mental fog, take a hike!