Estrogen Replacement Improves Postmenopausal Women's Attention and Non-verbal Memory

August 2, 2011

Results from a new study by doctors at the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers indicate that long-term estrogen replacement has a beneficial effect on postmenopausal women's non-verbal memory and attention span.

"Where did I leave my keys?" "How long has the oven been on- is that chicken I smell burning?" "Which one of these lovely young men is my future son-in-law? I know his name is Brad, but I forget what he looks like." Questions like these can torment women after the change of life. But relief is at hand. Stopping the decline of age-related memory loss and the confusion it often causes may be a simple matter of starting a course of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Results from a new study by doctors at the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers indicate that long-term estrogen replacement has a beneficial effect on postmenopausal women's non-verbal memory and attention span. Noting that, in recent years, many studies have found evidence that hormone replacement therapy results in improved cognitive function, the researchers designed their study to control for factors many previous studies did not address- like length of time from menopause until the initiation of HRT, gaps in use of HRT, and the use of the same form of HRT by the patient-subjects.

Two groups of healthy postmenopausal women were selected. All were over the age of sixty, highly educated and passed screenings for medical, neurological, and psychiatric illnesses. One group had never received HRT while the other had begun HRT within two years of menopause and continued without interruption. All of the women on HRT were using the same dose and preparation of estrogen.

The women were administered a battery of neuropsychological tests covering memory, verbal fluency, attention and concentration, and psychomotor function as well as testing to measure overall intellectual function. The researchers found that the only significant differences between the two groups occurred in tests showing improved visual memory, recall, and visual scanning and attention in women receiving HRT. Previous studies have found that women treated with long-term estrogen replacement therapy experience improvement in verbal memory and function, and better motor skills.

The researchers believe that variations in the findings of the different studies may be related to certain types of tests being more sensitive to the effects of HRT than others. In addition, not as much study has been made of the long-term protective effect of estrogen on cognitive functioning as of the shorter-term effects of its use. And they recognize that it is quite possible that the improved alertness and attention demonstrated by women using HRT improves their performance on other tests.

"Hormone replacement therapy offers great benefits to women who are able to use it," remarked William Keye, Jr., MD, President of the ASRM, "and even though more research is needed to completely characterize its cognitive effects, it certainly has a lot to recommend it."

References:

(Smith, et al., "Long-term estrogen replacement is associated with improved nonverbal memory and attentional measures in postmenopausal women," Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 76, No.6, December 2001)

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has more than 8,500 members dedicated to advancing knowledge and expertise in reproductive biology. ASRM-affiliate societies include the Society of Reproductive Surgeons, the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, and the Society for Assisted reproductive Technology.

Editor's Note: Fertility and Sterility is now available on-line. For instructions on how to access it, contact asrm-dc@asrm-dc.org.

For more information go to http://www.asrm.org