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Brain activity during early menopause studied

January 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Menopause is a time of many physical changes. We know how it affects a woman's mood, sleep and heart health. But now new research reveals what happens to a woman's brain during her first year of menopause.

University of Rochester Medical Center researchers took a closer look at what some call "menopause brain fog." They found it was most evident during the first year following a woman's final menstrual period. Gynecologist Dr. Steven Rabin says of all the classic menopause symptoms, memory loss gets the least attention.

"The hot flashes, the trouble sleeping, but memory loss is something that people don't always talk about, but it's always there," said Rabin.

"It is so disturbing not only to their quality of life, but to their effectiveness and to what they're doing day to day," said Rabin.

But why does it happen? The theory: areas of the brain used to process the learning of new information are rich with estrogen receptors.

So when estrogen levels drop, so do the functions of these critical areas.

The good news, according to researchers, is that if women get through this first year, their memory, concentration and fine motor skills should come back in time regardless of whether they took hormones or not.

"Coming out on the other end, the late menopause, after a year has gone by, in this study it showed that a lot of those cognitive abilities returned," said Rabin.

But Dr. Rabin says for women who don't want to wait, hormone replacement appears to help.

"Just anecdotally, we see it every day, that the women who are choosing to use hormones early in menopause seem to be doing much better than those who don't," said Rabin.