September 23, 2013

Menopause and Memory Loss


Recent studies seem to suggest that some women may suffer memory problems as they go through menopause.  If you or a friend or family member has a menopausal brain, you may not be shocked by this finding.

However, this was apparently big news to the countless medical professionals who weren't taking menopausal women seriously when they were telling them "OMG I can't remember a goddamned f--cking thing anymore!" that they were experiencing memory difficulties.

As it happens, I'm 53 years old, and there is some possible evidence that my memory is less than optimal.

In fact, at the risk of putting one of the world's most annoying songs in your head, I almost entitled this post:

"Some Call Me the Space Cowgirl."


But alas, since no one has ever called me "the gangster of love," or even "Maurice," the whole Steve Miller song lyric thing broke down pretty quickly.  Which is probably good because then I'd have to speak to the whole pompitous of love issue, and I'm not entirely clear where I stand on that.

Anyway, what was it I was talking about?

Oh, that's right!

Research on Menopause and Memory Loss

So one study of menopausal memory followed 403 women over 5 years, and found "the natural transition to menopause exerts a negative impact on immediate and delayed verbal recall." Specifically, menopause was messing with their ability to remember lists of words, which didn't sound to me like something that would come up all that much in real life, until I remembered that I constantly forget my grocery list and come back home without half the things on there because I have no freaking memory anymore.

So it looks like hot flashes may be at least partly to blame for this memory thing. A 2008 study or 29 midlife women found that those who had the most hot flashes had the most verbal memory impairment. But interestingly, many women were under-reporting the number of hot flashes they actually had. And it turns out there was no correlation between the number of hot flashes women thought they were having and their memory decline--it was all about how many they really did have.  Which points to it being a physiological thing, not a psychological thing, isn't that clever?

In another study of menopause, hot flashes and memory, 68 women who had at least 35 hot flashes a week were given a bunch of memory tests and asked about their mood and their own sense of whether or not their memory was going down the toilet. (The phrasing might have been slightly different). Turns out, the women knew pretty damn well when their memory was getting crappy, and gave "an accurate appraisal of their memory function."  Also, hot flashes and negative mood were related to memory performance.

And finally, yet another study discovered that the first year of menopause is the worst for memory finding that biggest declines happened then for attention/working memory, verbal learning, verbal memory, and fine motor speed.

Menopausal Memory Case Study

Let's say, totally hypothetically, you do an observational study of a 53 year old female during a random couple of months a few years after her hysterectomy.

Pretend you're a medical professional, what would you think?

Despite being an excellent speller in her youth, the subject can not recall how to spell any words that a 6 year old doesn't know. When composing on the computer she is greeted with red squiggle after red squiggle for the same words over and over, and never seems to be able to come up with common words such as "embarrassment" or "disappointing" or "occasional" on the first or sometimes even the fifth try. And don't even get her started on the word "rhythm." Can someone please buy it a real vowel or two?

She constantly walks into rooms forgetting what she came in for; she lost her wallet twice and her favorite jacket once in the last few months, although two of those occasians occassions occasions turned out to be false alarms. Despite mounting intensive exhaustive searches over several days she failed to see them sitting in plain sight in places she had already looked multiple times. Her patient spouse had to "see" them for her.

Shall we take a peek at her camera phone and see what's on there?

This is the subject's MP3 Player which is photographed here after it had been lying in the middle of Highway 6 for the previous 45 minutes. Is this a location you would choose to store electronic equipment?


The subject went on two different walks and was still heading away from home when she took these pictures:


Always good to be the only vertical object within miles when a thunderstorm approaches.




Not surprisingly, she came home completely soaked both times.


On the plus side, the subject does remember to wear her helmet when she bikes!

However, recently she biked to her favorite running trail and locked it up and went off for a run and did not notice until she was a mile down the trail that she was still wearing her helmet. This, alas, is not the most fashionable look though who knows, perhaps she could start a trend.

These were some fresh flowers a friend brought.  As the subject's spouse was out of town, this is what they looked like by the time the subject noticed they might be getting a little wilty.



Note the difference between these two objects:


One is an electric kettle that sits on a base which is plugged into the wall, and one is the old fashioned kind of kettle that goes directly on the stove.

Can you guess which one she recently almost burnt the house down with by spacing out and putting it directly on the stove? She only noticed when the blue flames turned yellow which looked kinda funny.

Here is a dramatic re-enactment.


What do you think? Are you ready to put down your pencils and find out the results?

Menopausal Memory Case Study Diagnosis



This subject is NOT suffering from clinically significant Menopausal Memory Loss!

Despite what looks like obvious symptoms, differential diagnosis is important.

In this case, the subject was already suffering from middle-aged memory loss well before her hysterectomy. This level of functioning is entirely normal for her.

In fact, the subject has had a reputation for being inattentive, distracted, vague, easily confused, and otherwise memory impaired for decades.  If you walk into a kitchen and discover every cabinet door has been left open you know she has been there, even though she will swear she always closes them every single time.

The subject prefers to think that this condition, OuterAtmospheric Cognitive Orientation Disorder (aka Space Cadet Personality Disorder) is just an annoying but semi-endearing artifact of a busy mind. People with this condition tend to focus on abstract ideas, engaging daydreams or bizarre musings about trivia rather than boring concrete down-to-earth things like "is the object I am approaching the stove with really something I want to set on fire?"

An additional diagnosis which explains the recent irrational behavior resulting in unwelcome drenchings is Weatherdotcom Delusional Disorder.  This afflicts wishful thinkers who go to an internet weather site, see a prediction they would like to be true, and despite all evidence to the contrary rely on it past all common sense. Repeated instances of weather.com being totally inaccurate and blatant signs of approaching storms are powerless against this delusion.

So, anyone else having memory trouble or are you all doing just fine? 

Images:
Comic: Natalie Dee; Astronaut: wikipedia commons.

56 comments:

  1. I have always been ditsy so I don't know how we would tell the difference if I had memory loss. My mother is the same way and she has been sure she is getting Alzheimer's for years. We just don't place a lot of importance on the location of keys or phones or remote controls so they are always lost. When something is important to me then I am sharp as a tack! Yep I can still name all the flavors at Baskin Robbins. I must be fine!

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    1. Good point Cindy! We remember the IMPORTANT stuff, like lyrics to commercial jingles that were on TV 40 years ago, so what if we can't remember where we parked the car?

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  2. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who experiences memory loss all the time!!! (and my only hot flashes are at night - all night long!) I will start a story and forget the point or how to finish it more often than I can actually tell the whole thing. And, I'm the same way on spelling - I write my posts with my phone handy so I can look up words that I know used to come naturally!!!
    Good times!!! My boys love it (not!) - oh, well - good practice for them if they ever have a spouse!!!

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    1. You too Kim? So much for the theory that exercise is the magical cure then! Sigh. :)

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  3. As information: We have a prominent Ob/Gyn doctor here that feels that with the onset of irregular periods and hot flashes that HRT may be indicated, and once started it is stayed on. This is something that has to be evaluated on an individual basis because of the many factors that influence risk. He has an MD PhD and has been very involved with the analysis of HRT data. I think he does not feel that the early and entrenched thoughts on the large nurses study are as valid as many people feel.

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    1. I am hearing this sentiment more and more Dr. J! Thanks for that. (In my case, had lots of endometriosis and was advised against it, but I think for many women it is definitely worth considering it).

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  4. Your posts make me snork. I love it. :-D

    Regarding memory issues, mine have been sliding slowly downhill for years, so I don't know if menopause will make much of a difference when it rolls around. I've never, not even as a child, been able to remember birthdays, and have always had a hard time remembering people's names until they're firmly attached to their face in my brain. Casual introductions are wasted on me, hehe.

    But I can tell you what year a certain album came out, what one-hit-wonder band sang that song stuck in your head, and sing every commercial jingle played between 1978 and 1989, so yeah. Cranial priorities, I guess. Heaven knows I don't do it on purpose. :-P

    So, notepads are a staple around here, as is Evernote. Sure I might have 14 lists going at the same time, but between the lot of them I get everything done!

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    1. I have the very same cranial priorities heather! And I must check out Evernote, I'll have to download that it sounds like a very handy ... hmm a cup of coffee sure would be nice right now... ooh must not forget to meditate... was I supposed to call for dinner reservations on Friday or did we decide to eat at home? Hmm I think there was something I was going to go google, oh well... Sigh.

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  5. Oh, a little here and there, but not much. OR I forgot about it. One or the other. LOL!

    You are hysterical, girl! :)

    And/but I was very blessed. Only time I had hot flashes (really, more like adrenal surges that HEAT), was immediately after red wine. I dodged some serious bullets 12 years ago, huh? OH, and I LOVE Natalie Dee! :)

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    1. Seriously Gwen, you only ever got red wine hot flashes? JEALOUS!!! Not that those are about to make me give up red wine, especially since I have a hundred other less tasty triggers. :)

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  6. That was hilarious, Crabby. I've had this for a few years now. It's reached the point that after I've gone for my bike ride and am changing back into regular clothes I have to consciously remind myself:" Put on pants."

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    1. OK, Leah, you get major spacey cred for forgetting pants. I admire that!

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  7. I've worried about memory loss a time or ten. The 'forgetting why I came into this room' has been going on for years though. I think I get crabbier about it as I age, so I notice it more. The spelling is the MOST annoying. I will blank on some of the easiest words! I've also become quite the ... now what the heck is that called?? ... thesaurus? The one where it gives you other words that mean close to the same... Anyway, I have become an expert at that. If I can't spell the word I wanted to use, I think of another one that means about the same and use it.

    I've found I need to force myself to focus on things more. I can no longer multi-task as efficiently as I used to. I also do 'brain games' to assist in keeping mine a little sharper. I want to say that certain vitamins and foods help keep me sharper. Sugars do not...dammit, no excuse there!

    I'll be 59 in a few weeks. I've gone through 'the change' as it started in earnest around age 54. So I've been there, done that, and have the hot flash memories to prove it! (what the heck does THAT mean?) I am more scatter brained in a way. It can take forever for me to write down my thoughts. Yet here I am, responding to YOUR posting, instead of posting on my own blog. lol

    At least I haven't burned the house down yet. :D

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    1. Wait Sherri, aren't you supposed to tell me that once the flashes die down I will have an awesome memory? Even though I never had one before? Dang it.

      And commenting on Cranky Fitness is a good thing!! Just think of it as a "brain exercise," albeit a very weird one. :)

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    2. yes . . . . . VERY weird. :D

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  8. I've always had a touch of C.R.S., but it's been really bad the last year or so. To the point that I'll be talking and can't reach the word I want to say...and losing things, too. I never used to lose things. Very organized, etc. Couple of weeks ago I picked up my Road ID from my desk, walked with it to my closet to put it in the proper bin. Hell if I know where it ended up, but I'm about to order a new one because that sucker is GONE.

    I left the burner on my gas stove for hours about a month ago - kept smelling gas, but had some granola in the oven and figure that was the source. Once night came and the kitchen got dark, I saw the flame...why it didn't occur to me to investigate, I don't know. I think (peri)menopause kills more brain cells than alcohol!

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    1. Oh dear Shelley, I could totally see myself doing the same thing! And I'm hoping our brain cells haven't actually died, but are just hiding out waiting for the temperature to get a bit more comfortable so they can function again.

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  9. If it's not written down, it may not be done. Or it will get done, but way late. And sometimes i don't remember to look at what i've written down. Oh, well.

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    1. Oh yeah, the whole making a list and forgetting to look at it... I do that too messymimi!

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  10. Crabby - you made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants - no, wait, er - I mean" had some other related old lady manifestations"....! Bless you for putting out there some great examples of what I think is SO common!

    I would only add occasional stuttering or other verbal issues (not recollection, per se - but more akin to literally having trouble spitting it out) to the list.

    At this point, I wouldn't care so much if it was found (in my case) that all of this is psychological v. physiological as long as they have an actual CURE for it! And, preferably in the form of some nice, easy to take pill with much desired side effects.

    On the bright side - there's maybe a gift in all this: it gives OTHERS a wee sense of (hidden) superiority in comparison as well as a few laughs (maybe not so hidden). Or - for those who don't need that additional sense of 'better than', we provide those "others" with a reason for all those silly warning labels (which we can no longer read without electron microscopes) and someone to look out for. So, you could say we are all actually providing a valuable service! At least that's my story and I'm stickin' with it for now!

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  11. PS - And please give yourself credit for knowing how to spell pompitous! (Signing off now to look up what it actually means.........)

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  12. Ah thank you anon, if I can contribute a reason to justify those annoying kegels we're all supposed to be doing in the grocery store line, I'm happy to oblige!

    And yeah, good point--our fuzzy brains make young people feel better about themselves, that's gotta count for something.

    Oh, and good luck on pompitous... I'll be curious what you find out! I have NO IDEA.

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  13. As I tread the hot springs of peri-menopause, I must admit...my fantastic memory is not what it once was. Still hanging in there, but definitely forgetting things that I didn't forget before. Thanks for sharing, it is so nice to know I (and other Cranketeers) am not alone.

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    1. Kimberley, the "hot springs of peri-menopause" almost sounds kinda pleasant, you should be in marketing! Though then you'd have to remember the slogans... and no, you are NOT alone!

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  14. I don't know. The thing is, I took anti-seizure drugs for 2 years when I had the brain tumor. I was 46, and when I noticed it was harder to remember steps in a dance class, or I forgot stuff at work, I figured that was just what happened when we approached 50. Then I stopped the medication and felt like I had gotten about 10 years younger. After that, the gently increasing absent-mindedness seems like no big deal. I can still - almost 15 years after getting rid of the drug side effects - remember the steps in tap much better than I could then, but not as easily as I did when I was 30.

    I am sorry to have to report that the hot flashes don't necessarily end. No. I had this general impression they were a transition thing, maybe a year or two. Apparently that is not guaranteed at all. I am about ten years into them now.

    None of this stuff really bothers me much. My husband has always been far more forgetful, so I can feel smug by comparison.

    My father's theory was that kids remember everything because they have so much space remaining in their brains, and that we fill up the easily used space as we grow older and learn more. I like the idea, although I suspect it doesn't hold up very well to current science.

    By the way, 23andme will be getting some mail from me shortly. Can't wait to see the results.

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    1. I like your theory about our full brains DRG! Wish I could do a spring cleaning though and dump out some of the useless crap so there might be a bit of room left for remembering what I came into the room for.

      And yeah, the Lobster's going on about 10 years too, they sure didn't warn us it could be that long!!

      Will be curious what you think of 23 and me...

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  15. OMG, laughed all the way thru - not AT you but with you. I have had periods of this on & off since the hormones started acting up - some worse than others. I have had severe night sweat sin the past & now still have the hot flashes so I can now tell hubby that I have an excuse for all this forgetting stuff & losing things that I never did before! ;)

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    1. Yep Jody, at least the research gives a reasonable excuse! Although for me, I'd have a way better shot if I'd just PAY ATTENTION to things in the first place.

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  16. Ha!!!!!!!! Too funny. You are getting me so excited about my future ;)

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    1. Oh just wait Gigi... though on the plus side... no worries about running out of feminine hygiene supplies, that counts for something!

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  17. I've always said that hot flashes fry your brain.
    I was right. And, after 10 years of hot flashes, I have very few brain cells left!

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  18. I never had hot flashes - but man- my memory is in the tanker. This made me laugh so much - luckily my husband's memory is even worse - so he doesn't remember that i don't remember things!! we are quite the pair. My son (16) has picked up on this and used it to his FULL advantage- "gosh mom - I told you xxxxx. You just can't remember." Right!! or maybe he is right - I just don't remember!!!

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    1. I do kinda feel sorry for guys because they can't fall back on the whole hormone thing as a justification and just have to admit it when they have crappy memories. Or get REALLY good at bluffing.

      Too funny that you're son's all over it, sneaky kid!

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  19. I love the storm pictures! I love the dramatic reenactment photo! I love the red squiggly lines for they tell me what I already know - my strength does not lay in spelling and they help me (sometimes) to find the right spelling. I love everything about this post. I love your style, Crabby!

    My husband found the sandwich baggies in the fridge this week. Oops! Is it peri-menopause? Or is it the heaps of information that we have coming our way from every direction? Don’t get me started on trying to remember passwords! I swear, I keep the customer service reps employed with needing their help to reset a forgotten password or username. Geesh.

    Thanks for the awesome giggles. You ROCK!

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    1. Aww, thanks so much Theresa!

      I totally love the baggies in the fridge, it sounds EXACTLY like the stupid stuff I do all the time now. And yeah, passwords, especially ones for accounts you couldn't care less about that no one would ever in their right mind try to hack into that require 37 digits and special characters and a mix of caps and numbers, then ask security questions you'd never answer the same way twice. "What is your favorite book?" "Who was your favorite teacher?" Argghhh.

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  20. Aw, Gangster of Love, you do make me laugh! I have done the thing with the kettle myself.

    I hit the menopause thing last spring like a speeding train -- spaciness, constant hot flashes, sleeplessness, killer dry skin, brakes slammed on what had been a 2-lb per week weight loss, and the sudden, total death of sex drive. That last is a serious bummer. I raised the issue with my doctor, who is nice but REALLY careful. She wants me to try some kind of topical goo that would be a turn off even if there were anything to turn off. Personally, I'd want to go for the experimental testosterone approach, because even if it didn't work, I could get really jacked.

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    1. Yay, someone called me the Gangster of Love! Thanks Trabb's boy!

      And I"m with you on wishing I could score some testosterone, never mind that my chin hairs are already resembling a beard.

      (And tmi warning: if it's the hormonal topical goo I tried for a while, it's expensive and the applicator was designed by a sadist (especially if tissues are already sensitive), and in the end had about the same effect as KY).

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    2. Really appreciate the advice (I will NOT call it the "inside scoop") on the hormonal goo. I'll put my foot down on that one!

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    3. "inside scoop" took me a second Trabb's Boy... touché!

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    4. Oops, "J Graham" is Crabby when she, um, forgets to sign out of her other gmail account. Sigh.

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  21. Oh, you make me laugh. I always forget where my eyeglasses are. I have hot flashes, too. I hope they don't get hot enough to fry all of my brain cells. I should be thankful I still remember my cell phone number.

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    1. You remember your cell phone number Rikki? JEALOUS. I made the mistake of getting a new one in the last decade and my brain always gives up right in the middle of it.

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    2. Oh, but it does remind to advise you: Rikki, don't lose that number.

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  22. I did remember to post, I know I did!

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    1. And apparently I crashed blogger trying. First the post disappeared, then the page disappeared. So much for memory.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    2. Wait, Mary Anne, I could have sworn I saw a comment by you, but it's not only not here, it's not in my email either. Either we're both delusional or all things blogger/google are conspiring against us!

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  23. So far, I've been very lucky with hot flashes. They're mild, short-lived and infrequent. So far.

    As for memory... ummm.. well... errrr.. what were we talking about?

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  24. is a sign of MENOPAUSE getting earworms easily?
    THATS HAPPENING TO ME :)
    **saunters off singing SOME PEOPLE CALLL ME MAURICEEEEE**

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  25. LOL...I love your sense of humour and writing style! My mom rarely finishes sentences anymore...guess that is what I have to look forward to. Do you think that it may have something to do with hormones but not just menopausal hormones? When I was pregnant my memory sucked! But its back now :)

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  26. Goodness, I'm already a scatterbrain, what is it gonna be??!

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  27. This does make sense. My mum's been in menopause for the past 10 years or so and while I do remember her having excellent memory, and generally still has, there are occasional situations where she just seems spaced out and not remembering things that she had planned to do. She's actually resorted to writing things on a list recently which she never did before. We all thought it was just the aging process but the description above really hits home.

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  28. Do you think that it may have something to do with hormones but not just menopausal hormones?

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  29. Menopausal stage for elders is really a difficult time for them. Every family member should support their elders who are going through this stage.

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