Because memory lapses can cause other concerns, many women have questions about this menopause symptom. Below are frequently asked questions and their answers to clear up confusion about memory lapses during menopause.
Q: What Are Memory Lapses?
A: Memory lapses occur when a person is unable to recall information at will or suffers from "brain fog."
Memory lapses affect only the short-term memory and recent memory, which are responsible for holding information in the mind for brief periods of time until it's no longer needed, generally no longer than a day. A woman forgetting where she left her keys or missing an important appointment are prime examples of memory lapses. Read on to find out what causes these memory lapses during menopause.
Q: What Causes Memory Lapses?
A: Memory lapses have a two-fold cause: hormonal imbalance and other menopause symptoms that fatigue or distract the brain.
As a woman's estrogen levels fluctuate during menopause, she will likely experience many physical and mental symptoms. Memory lapses are closely tied to these changes in estrogen because estrogen is a key component in many brain functions, including memory. This hormone activates part of the brain responsible for memory called the hippocampus, which then increases levels of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which helps facilitate memory retention. Estrogen also relaxes and opens up blood vessels to allow more blood flow to the brain, which increases the brain's functioning and improves memory.
Other menopause symptoms
Women going through menopause are often under a great deal of physical, emotional, and mental stress from the many symptoms that menopause can bring. Any menopause symptom that fatigues the mind or causes a woman to be distracted can result in memory lapses. Each of the other symptoms, though, are caused predominantly by hormonal imbalance. Below are some of the symptoms that can lead to memory lapses:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disorders
- Mood swings
Q: Can Other Factors Exacerbate Memory Lapses?
A: Yes. Any activity that decreases the brain's functioning can worsen memory lapses. Below are some of those factors:
- Excessive amounts of alcohol
- Some medications, such as sleeping pills or opiates
- Vitamin deficiencies
- A diet lacking in proper nutrients and high in caffeine and sugar
- Lack of sleep
Q: Do Memory Lapses Indicate Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease or Other Cognitive Disorders?
A: Many menopausal women who experience frequent memory lapses fear that they are losing their minds or on the cusp of severe cognitive disorder. However, there is no need to worry. Memory lapses are a typical symptom of menopause that affects many women in their 40's and 50's. Often, once a woman enters postmenopause, her memory lapses improve. However, in some cases, memory lapses can be signs of cognitive decline. Below are some of the disorders associated with severe memory lapses:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Infections of the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis
- Head trauma
- Multi-infarct dementia
- Attention deficit disorder
Continue reading to find out when to see a doctor for memory lapses.
Q: When Is it a Good Idea to See a Doctor?
A: Because memory lapses can cause some women to fear the worst, seeing a doctor about them is a good idea to bring peace of mind. If a woman's memory lapses are disrupting her daily life, she should visit her physician. If she begins forgetting old memories or can't remember how to do routine activities she's done for a long time, it's also imperative to seek medical care. Otherwise, she can consider her memory lapses mere annoyances that will likely subside following menopause.
Q: Are There Ways to Improve Memory?
A: Some easy lifestyle tips can help to improve memory. A healthful diet rich in brain-friendly nutrients like omega-3 and omega-6, such as fish, can help. Cutting back on caffeine and sugars, which can cloud thinking, will also go a long way to boost memory. Stress-relieving techniques like meditation or yoga will also benefit health, and mnemonic devices or other memory tricks can also help with information retention.
Q: What Are the Best Ways to Cope with Memory Lapses?
A: Three approaches can be considered for treating memory lapses: (1) lifestyle changes, (2) alternative remedies, and (3) medications. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click on treatments for memory lapses to find out more about these approaches.
- Henderson, V.W. (2008). Cognitive Changes after Menopause: Influence of Estrogen. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 51(3), 614-626. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e318180ba10
- Greendale, G.A. , Derby, C.A. & Maki, P.M. (2012). Perimenopause and Cognition. Obstetrics and gynecology clinics of North America, 38(3), 519-535. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.007
- Kulzow, N. et al. (2016). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Memory Functions in Healthy Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 51(3), 713-725. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150886
- 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