Jeanne Tripplehorn 06.10.1963

Posts Tagged ‘perimenopause’

Memory Tip #4: Avoid Multitasking!

1.7.12

As the holidays approached, my girlfriend Tina began calling her cat Seymour. Her cat’s name is Garvey.  Seymour was the cat who lived next door many, many years ago. Tina wasn’t dementing. She wasn’t losing her memory. She was just another victim of Holiday Haze - a state of mind that occurs when you try to keep track of way too many things at one time and usually gets worse around the holidays.


Multitasking, keeping “too many balls in the air” or mental tracking (as psychologists call it), requires a great deal of attention and it’s exhausting. In fact, in terms of using up the brain’s energy, multitasking  is very expensive. Think about it this way: when you have a ton of programs running on your computer, it’s processing speed just isn’t as fast as when you’re only checking your e-mail.  Mental tracking is also a cognitive skill that declines dramatically with age. Hooray.

 

 

Unfortunately, we tend to beat ourselves up when we can’t manage everything as well as we  used to. Even though my gal pals now work full time, they’re still the ones who remain determined to create the perfect family holiday: festive decorations, yummy sweet treats, merry gatherings and thoughtful gifts for everyone. The need to recreate a 1950s vision of the holidays is probably nuts, but it seems that most moms suffer from this delusion. Mom may be the glue that holds the family together but she’s starting to melt!

 

 

So how do we avoid the overload of multitasking ? Here’s how:


1) Cut out anything superfluous. Learn to say “no” to commitments and delegate tasks to others. Acknowledge that you only have so much cognitive capacity and if  you commit to handling too much, you’re going to probably do a crummy job of it, or worse, drive yourself batty. Keep in mind that this will require some of us control freaks to get comfortable with others helping out and doing things their way. I know, perish the thought. But remember that this is all in the name of saving your brain. Trust us. Real Simple offers some great tips on how to politely say “no” to extra commitments.


2) Don’t try to juggle details or hold information in your mind, write it down, make a list, add it to your “log of the dayand then dismiss it. Keeping things off of your brain’s hard drive will allow it to run more efficiently.


3) Get organized! Don’t waste precious cognitive energy trying to retrace your steps to find those keys and that lost mitten. Organize your life so that it requires as little extra attention as possible.


4) Try to create a quiet, distraction free environment in which to work. Even something as simple as extraneous noise or voices drains attention.  In my office, voices permeate the walls.  I have found that a simple white noise machine or the background noise from a fan improves my concentration immensely.


5) Focus on one task at a time and finish it before moving on. Tell yourself that until you finish your task, you are not allowed to check your e-mail, answer the phone or roam the internet (yes, that includes Facebook).


Obviously, we can’t completely avoid multitasking, so here’s how you can perform your best while doing it:


1) Complete your multitasking  in the morning when you are fresh and rested. As the day progresses and you get fatigued, your skills will decline.


2) Eat a piece of fruit in the afternoon. The brain relies on glucose (sugar) and when glucose is depleted, attention skills suffer.  If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, keep prunes, raisins or cranberry juice on hand. Your attention should improve and you’ll be  getting those important antioxidents as well.


3) Avoid stress. Worries use up brain energy and diminish our ability to pay attention. (Yes, easier said than done, but we’ll be posting a list of some stress busters soon. Stay tuned!)


4) Avoid alcohol. Surprise, surprise: alcohol impairs our ability to perform tasks that require a lot of attention.  Now, before you throw your laptop across the room in protest, there’s good news: At the end of the day, when the multitasking demands are over, that one margarita may not be such a bad thing. In fact, in the long run, it might even improve your memory. Say what? Yes, you read that right! Cheers!

 

 

 

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.

Feeling Alone in the Menopausal Abyss? Throw a Party!

11.13.11

Going through menopause not only can make you feel like you’re losing your marbles, it can also be pretty isolating. Memory lapses, irritability, fatigue, and a host of other physical symptoms can leave you frustrated, burnt out, and a acting little demented…which can send your friends and family hightailing it to the hills!

 

Instead of the typical social withdrawal, why not throw a party?


Ellen Sarver Dolgen, author of Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness, has been bringing women together to teach them about growing older with menopause-themed parties. Or, as we call them here, menoParties!  It’s a time to vent, share your menoPaused moments, get informed, feel supported,  and boost each other up, all while having a merry time.

 

Not unlike a support group, these shindigs  can help to “normalize” your menopause experience. This is psychology speak for: you’re not the only one going through this and you’re not a freak of nature…you’re simply menopausal.  And you can share how it’s anything but simple with women who get it.

 

Want to throw a menoParty of your own? Invite your gal pals over, have some tasty eats and sips, and read through Menopause Mind together for  titillating discussion topics! (How’s that for a plug?)

Hot Flashes, Hot Flushes, Night Sweats: “Hot Women” Takes On New Meaning

5.30.10

 

I will never forget my first major hot flash. I was in my office interviewing a distinguished and very serious couple who were clearly distressed about the wife’s memory problems. As I was addressing their concerns in my most professional manner—WHAMMM! Suddenly my heart began to race, and my whole body was on fire,   I turned bright red and the sweat started pouring down my face.   My wool suit became unbearably itchy and I wanted nothing more than to rip off my clothes and put my head in the sink.  Instead, I calmly took out a tissue, wiped my face and tried to ignore the husband’s horrified expression.


 

Do you know why we have hot flashes during perimenopause? You’re not alone; no one else does either. That’s why there isn’t a pill specifically designed for hot flashes. When a drug company gets close, I’m buying up their stock. Can you imagine the demand?


 

What we call hot flashes, hot flushes and night sweats are all vasomotor symptoms. These vasomotor symptoms occur in about 88% of perimenopausal women and 74% of menipausal women.   For some women they diminish after one year – for some women they last 30 years!!


 

What we do know is that we have a thermostat in our bodies that closely regulates our body temperature.  We have also known for some time that estrogen plays a key role in hot flashes which is why Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) is viewed as the most effective tried and true method for controlling them.


 

Here’s the good news for us “Hot Women”: now that we are beginning to understand how other factors such as neurotransmitters affect our thermostat we have additional ways to combat hot flashes.


 

Anti-depressant medications, specifically those that alter neurotransmitters (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs) can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes by up to 50%.  A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology* reported that SSRIs have been shown to minimize hot flashes, but it seems that citalopram (A.K.A  Celexa or Cipramil) might stand out above the rest. The added benefit is that SSRIs have been shown to improve mood, sleep, anxiety and overall quality of life in menopausal women.


 

Unfortunately, so many women I know refuse to go on SSRI’s because they consider it admitting defeat or failure.  But, like in most areas, women need to let themselves off the hook.  They need to admit that their neurotransmitters are out-of-wack and that it’s not their fault.  The simple fact is that SSRI’s can help to give you back your premenopausal self. So if you’re feeling particularly steamy these days, go make an appointment with your doctor and check out your options.

When does Menopause start? How will I know?

5.29.10

It really doesn’t help that menopause can only be recognized by hindsight. By the time that you can finally look backward and realize that you haven’t had your period for 12 months, you’ve come to terms with the changes, one way or another.


 

 

Wouldn’t it  be great if we had a warning light or a bell that went off somewhere when this whole process kicked in? Instead, we’re left in a state of confusion and uncertainty leading up to menopause that can last from the 40s to the 60s (yes, that long!). Although this transition stage finally has its own name – perimenopause, we know very little about it. There isn’t a definitive test for being perimenopausal. Hormones fluctuate so much throughout a woman’s cycle that your doctor can’t simply take a blood test one day and say “Yep, This is it – you are perimenopausal!”


 

 

The wide range of symptoms that one can expect and why we have them still remains a mystery.   Experts tell us that symptoms of perimenopause include irregular periods, hot flashes and night sweats. But what about those 5 pounds that you suddenly gain that you can’t lose, no matter how much you cut carbs, sweat on the elliptical, or crunch your way to an abdominal cramp? Or what about that gradual increase in anxiety that you can’t explain? Before you know it, you develop sleep problems and that wine (most tragically) starts to give you headaches. How about your recent habit of forgetting familiar names and words and those transient episodes when it seems like your mind is turning to mush…Where was I? Oh, right.  How are these symptoms related to menopause? It’s obvious that we’re going to need from both science and girlfriends to get to the bottom of this issue.  So, before you get distracted by a hot flash and forget, take a moment and send us your menopause moments, concerns and questions!