Two-thirds of women nearing menopause report feeling less mentally quick and more forgetful. They’re right—but the difference is subtle and the setback is temporary. So finds a study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, that its authors call the longest and largest to examine memory and menopause.
Gail Greendale, M.D., professor of medicine and obstetrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and her colleagues followed 2,362 women ages 42 to 52 over four years as they moved through menopause. At regular intervals the women took tests that measured memory, learning and mental processing speed. Here’s how they did on repeat tests:
* The test scores of premenopausal, early perimenopausal (women who had no gap in menstrual periods longer than three months) and postmenopausal women improved.
* The only group that didn’t test better over time contained the women closest to menopause.
Greendale says the findings match what patients tell her as they approach menopause. “They’re not complaining of devastating memory loss. They say things like, ‘I’m not as sharp as I was.’ That’s exactly what our study shows.” Greendale calls the evidence that women return to premenopausal learning levels once they complete menopause “the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” That, she says, is “very encouraging and very hopeful.”
R. Scott Turner, M.D., a professor of neurology and director of Georgetown University’s Memory Disorders Program, says the findings confirmed what many patients suspected.
“Finally,” he says, “after all these years of hearing women with memory complaints … and telling them we can’t find anything wrong, we can use this paper now to tell them what’s going on … and explain that the effects are subtle and temporary.”
The study appeared in the May 26 issue of the journal Neurology.
Susan Morse, formerly with the Washington Post, writes about health and consumer issues.