Menopause and memory loss: Many factors involved

May 1, 2012

Memory loss is a common complaint of women during the menopausal transistion.

Memory loss is a common complaint of women during the menopausal transition. A study of 75 perimenopausal women suggests that although some loss of working memory and complex attention/vigilance may occur, verbal memory and verbal learning were not affected. Further, memory complaints can be predicted by depressive symptoms, somatic complaints, anxiety, and sleep problems.

The present study is an extension of a small study of 24 women, 14 of whom elected to continue in the second study for which 51 women were recruited between April 2007 and December 2009. Participants were age 40 to 60 years (mean age, 49.3 years), reported changes in menstrual cycles, had at least 1 menstrual period in the previous 12 months, and had an intact uterus. They completed the Memory Functioning Questionnaire and a cognitive battery: premorbid intellectual function, attention, working memory, verbal fluency, fine motor skills, visuospatial skills, and memory. They also were surveyed about anxiety, depression, and overall health, and blood samples were taken to determine their levels of serum estradiol and follicle stimulating hormone on the date of cognitive testing.

Some degree of memory loss was reported by 67% of the women, and 41% reported a moderately serious level of forgetfulness. However, objective performance testing revealed that 13% of the women were in the borderline-impaired to impaired range on at least 1 verbal memory measure. Nearly 23% of women reported symptoms of mild to moderate depression, and 1 was severely depressed. Twenty percent of those with verbal memory deficits also reported mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Forgetfulness was associated with depression, anxiety, sexual problems, feelings of unattractiveness, somatic complaints, sleep disturbances, and increased vasomotor symptoms. No relationship was found between hormone levels and subjective memory complaints or objective memory performance.

Weber MT, Mapstone M, Staskiewicz J, Maki PM. Reconciling subjective memory complaints with objective memory performance in the menopausal transition. Menopause. 2012;19(7). Epub ahead of print.