We all know the feeling of forgetting the words you are looking for, or wondering whether you locked the door on the way out of the house. During perimenopause this feeling of forgetfulness is common and it is often accompanied by difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. All together, these symptoms are often referred to as “brain fog”.
In our blog, we have previously covered menopause, anxiety and mood symptoms. Brain fog symptoms belong in their own category, but can nonetheless affect our sense of self-confidence. Today, we will explain what research tells us about forgetfulness and brain fog symptoms as well as what we can do to alleviate them. Forgetting things can be quite scary, and often leaves us with a sense that we might be going mad. We hope that by understanding the biology you can see that these symptoms are normal, and are actually quite common.
We know that 60% of women report memory and cognitive symptoms during menopause, such as difficulty concentrating. This can feel debilitating and we have heard from a few women whose symptoms were so bad they feared early onset dementia before receiving a diagnosis of menopause.
Research tells us that oestrogen has been linked to activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory processing. During perimenopause your ovaries reduce production of oestrogen and a kind of oestrogen called oestradiol. (You can read more about types of oestrogen here.) Studies have shown us that low levels of oestradiol in some women is linked to worse performance on memory tests.
Some women are more sensitive to falling oestrogen than others, which may explain why not all women experience memory related symptoms.
This association between oestrogen and memory is also seen in our menstrual cycle before menopause. Research has shown women perform worse on concentration and memory tasks during the last days of the menstrual cycle, a result of lower oestrogen levels . We may not notice this as much, because it only lasts a day or two, compared to the several years of perimenopause. (1)
While brain fog and forgetfulness are quite common during menopause, if your symptoms are particularly severe, please speak to your doctor about them to rule out any more serious conditions.
There are certain changes you can make to support your brain health during menopause:
The most important thing to note is that menopause mood and memory related symptoms are temporary. Your brain eventually adjusts to low oestrogen levels and for most women the symptoms go away. (2)
It can be challenging not knowing how long symptoms will last, but remember that your experience is normal and you are not alone. Because menopause still isn’t talked about as much as it should be, you may have to be proactive in getting a correct diagnosis and treating your cognitive menopausal symptoms. If you are talking to a doctor about your menopause, see our tips for getting the most out of your visit.