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Menopause and memory loss

Does your mind seem foggy? Maybe you can’t remember someone’s name or where you put your keys. Short-term memory loss can be a real and natural part of menopause.

The physical connection

The hot flashes of menopause can play a role in causing fuzzy memory. Hot flashes interrupt your sleep cycle at night, resulting in sleep deprivation, a known cause of temporary memory loss.

The chemical connection

Estrogen is a hormone that helps brain cells in two ways: First, it helps produce a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is critical for memory. Second, it helps nerves in the brain send messages to each other, a necessary step in remembering.

As your body produces less estrogen, these functions decrease as well. Plus, we gradually lose brain cells, so it’s easy to see why we associate memory loss with menopause.

What’s a woman to do?

In healthy women, the effect of decreasing estrogen is mild. Nevertheless, here are some ways to counter nature and keep your memory sharp:

Use your head. Keep your brain fit with “workouts” of brain exercises, such as doing crossword puzzles, playing cards or chess, memorizing poetry, reading, starting a hobby or learning a foreign language or a new skill.

Exercise. Pump up your brainpower by improving circulation and delivering more oxygen to your brain cells to keep them healthy.

Manage stress. Practice relaxation techniques—like meditation or yoga—and get enough sleep.

Avoid alcohol and smoking. Alcohol damages brain cells, and smoking restricts blood vessels, sending less oxygen to your brain.

Fill up on antioxidants. Fruits, vegetables and tea provide antioxidants that destroy free radicals (atoms capable of destroying brain cells).

Use tricks to remember. Mnemonic devices are cues to help you remember. For example, use the acronym HOMES to remember the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

What about herbal supplements?

Ginkgo biloba is said to boost memory by increasing circulation to the brain and protecting nerve function, but further research is needed to support this claim. While ginkgo has not been shown to cause significant side effects in healthy people, it and other herbal dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Ginkgo biloba may cause harmful interactions with medications, such as aspirin or prescription anticlotting drugs, and should not be taken if you are scheduled for any type of surgery. It is important to talk to your doctor before you take any type of supplement.

The bottom line

If you are concerned about your memory loss or experience additional symptoms, such as difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language or feelings of disorientation, see your doctor for a thorough physical exam. He or she can diagnose the exact cause of your memory loss and recommend the right treatment for you.