In a new study, women aged 45-55 years performed better in all memory tasks than men, despite experiencing a dip around the menopause.
About 75 per cent of people experience memory problems as they get older and as women reach the menopause they can also struggle with forgetfulness. For some women this memory depletion continues after menopause. Some research has suggested that women have difficulty with verbal fluency at these times, too.
Nevertheless, women with healthy aging brains continue to have an edge over men when it comes to memory function, even in midlife and older age.
In fact, some studies suggest that girls outperform boys in memory tasks even from childhood. This is especially true of verbal memory. The difference becomes more significant just after puberty and it continues into adulthood.
Researchers from Boston, MA, have been investigating how the menopause and levels of sex steroids, which are believed to affect learning and memory in women, might affect particular aspects of memory.
They set out to test the hypothesis that sex differences, hormones, and reproductive status might correlate with changes in memory performance.
The researchers also wanted to know which memory domains are most likely to be impaired in menopausal women and whether the level of memory function in early midlife might predict the future onset of Alzheimer’s disease, based on family history.
Memory performance linked to estradiol levels
The participants of the study were 212 men and women aged between 45-55 years.
Challenging memory tests were used to assess episodic memory, executive function, and semantic processing. Cognitive testing was used to measure verbal intelligence.
The team compared performance between men and women, and also between women at different stages, before, during, and after menopause.
The results of the study showed that women outperformed men, and that women who were premenopausal or perimenopausal scored better than women who were postmenopausal. Performance was linked to estradiol levels, regardless of chronological age.
As estradiol declines during menopause, women find it harder to learn something for the first time and to retrieve information. However, they continue to maintain and consolidate stored memories effectively. The findings suggest that different parts of the brain are affected.
A fall in estradiol levels during menopause has also been found to relate directly to changes in brain activity in the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory function.
HRT may be able to help guard against this. Talk to a gynaecologist who is expert in the prescription of HRT.
The research found no indication of a link between menopausal brain deficits and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study is published in the journal Menopause.
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary