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.