Many women who enter menopause complain of developing “brain fog,” having “senior moments” or suffering from “brain farts.” They experience temporary loss of memory such as forgetting names or appointments or misplacing items. In most cases, there is no need to panic as these symptoms are not permanent and do not indicate the onset of dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of cognitive disorders that are characterized by memory impairment. Alzheimer’s is perhaps the most common form. Other diseases that present dementia symptoms include: vascular dementia (usually due to a stroke or mini “silent” strokes), dementia with Lewy Bodies (deposits of a protein), and frontotemporal dementia (cell damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain).
A study presented at the American Heart Association conference in March of 2022 concluded that “women who entered menopause before or around age 45 were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia before age 65, as compared with those whose periods ceased at age 50 (the average age at which menstrual cycles stop.)”
Though reduced estrogen levels at a younger age may be a factor in dementia, this was an observational study and, therefore, a specific reason for a link between early menopause and higher dementia rates could not be verified. Also, this study did not take into account the family history of the subjects. In addition, there is conflicting information on whether using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is beneficial in preventing dementia.
However, it is interesting to note that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association stats from 2019, more women than men in the U.S., age 65 and older, have dementia (3.5 million women compared to 2.1 million men). Research also indicates that the disease may spread differently in the brains of women than in men.
I have had first-hand experience with the different types of dementia while working with my elderly clients. My personal experience involves a very close family member who developed Alzheimer’s in her early 50s and a friend who was recently diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia.
I would highly recommend that you seek the counsel of a neurologist if your “brain fog” interferes with your daily activities to the extent that major mistakes are made, you are confused by simple directions, bills are not paid, and colleagues or family members comment on your memory loss. Diagnosing dementia is not always easy even for a trained medical professional. It may take a few rounds of in-depth testing and brain scans to determine if you definitely have a cognitive disorder.