Many women notice the occurrence of memory lapses during their perimenopausal years. These can be frustrating and lifestyle-impeding, so it's important to find ways to combat them. Reading is an activity most people enjoy in one way or another, whether it's scanning the newspaper or a magazine on your way to work every morning, losing yourself in a great novel, or enjoying story time with your children. Not only pleasurable, reading also offers significant benefits to the brain, meaning that, during perimenopause, it could be key to combating your memory lapses.
Memory Loss during Perimenopause
The hormone estrogen has significant influence over the brain's function through its effects on the circulatory and immune systems. The hormone enhances activity of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain, as well as improving potentiation, which is the process involved in the formation of new memories.
The years when a woman is in her forties and early fifties are often referred to as perimenopause, when hormonal changes occur in the body as it prepares for menopause. A decline in estrogen levels in these years can hinder the way a woman learns and consciously recalls new information. This is known as a “brain fog”.
Brain fogs affect the cognitive functions in the brain, which influence the ability to concentrate, adjust to a change in routine, and recall recent memories. In a 2008, Women's Health Initiative Memory Study reported that 60% of the 33 - 55 year-old women saw a decline in their ability to recall words and numbers, experienced difficulty concentrating, and frequently forgot events - such as appointments - during perimenopause.
Reading and Memory Lapses
Like other processes and muscles in the body, the cognitive functions can be strengthened through specific habits and lifestyle changes. Studies have shown that engaging in brain-stimulating activities on a daily basis improves cognitive functions in a way that could combat memory lapses. Reading for approximately half an hour every day is likely to significantly and permanently enhance memory within six months.
What's more, reading can also combat other menopause symptoms that contribute to perimenopausal memory lapses. Stress, fatigue, and mood swings can cause memory issues during perimenopause, and reading is a relaxing and healthy distraction from these symptoms.
Other Ways to Combat Memory Lapses
Reading can be easily worked into your everyday life and adapted to your personal taste (i.e., according to your favorite genre, author, etc.), which makes it a convenient means of combating memory lapses. However, there are several other enriching activities that help improve memory. Learning to play a musical instrument, playing engaging games, such as cards or word games, taking up a new hobby, or even downloading an FDA-approved brain-training app to your device are all fun alternatives to reading.
It is natural to feel frustration and concern upon noticing perimenopausal memory lapses, but try to focus on what you can do to combat the symptom rather than dwelling on its negative aspects. Set aside time to train your brain by reading for at least a short while every day. Choose material that is engaging for you, and see reading as a chance to relax and switch off from day-to-day worries so that combating memory loss becomes a pleasure to look forward to rather than a chore.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2010). Coping with Memory Loss. Retrieved April 21, 2014, from http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm107783.htm
- Greendale, G.A. , Derby, C.A. & Maki, P.M. (2013). Perimenopause and Cognition. Obstetrics and gynecology clinics of North America, 38(3), 519-535. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.007
- Henderson, V.W. (2009). Cognitive Changes after Menopause: Influence of Estrogen. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 51(3), 618-626. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e318180ba10
- Office on Women's Health. (2010). The aging brain. Retrieved April 21, 2014, from http://womenshealth.gov/aging/mental-health/aging-brain.html
- Uchida, S. & Kawashima, R. (2008). Reading and solving mental arithmetic problems improves cognitive functions of normal aged people: a randomized controlled study. Age, 30(1), 21-29. doi: 10.1007/s11357-007-9044-x