Around menopause, many women report experiencing mental "fuzziness"—things like difficulty concentrating, blanking out on names, losing one's train of thought, misplacing items, and forgetting appointments.
In fact, memory complaints around this time are quite common: Some studies report that as many as 60 percent of women notice such "unfavorable" memory problems at midlife. But what—if anything—can be done about them?
The good news is, although it's not uncommon to feel like your brain isn't functioning as well as it should during the transition to menopause, the effects appear to be temporary and may improve once a new state of physical equilibrium is reached. In the meantime, there are things you can do to guard against changes in your memory and cognitive function.
First off, take care of your heart's health as you age. The older you are—after about age 55 for women—the greater your risk of developing coronary heart disease. If you also have other risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, or diabetes—evidence suggests that you may also be at increased risk for experiencing adverse cognitive effects. Declining estrogen levels may be a factor in coronary heart disease as well. Estrogen is believed to help keep blood vessels flexible, allowing them to relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.
Your five best bets for protection:
1. Exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week or more (or a combination). Keep your blood pressure under control; 120/80 mm Hg is the goal for most people.
2. Be mindful of what you eat. Consume a healthy diet consisting mostly of fruits, vegetables, grains (especially whole grains) and proteins, such as salmon and other types of omega-3-rich fish, beans and nuts.
3. Ask about hormone replacement therapy. If your menopausal symptoms are bothersome, ask your doctor about hormone therapy. Although hormone therapy is no longer routinely recommended for boosting diminished estrogen levels, some studies suggest that there may be a critical "window" during which it may offer some neuroprotective effects.
4. Challenge your brain regularly. Stay curious and involved by reading, playing board and card games, or learning a new instrument or language. Take in lectures and plays, or enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college, or other community group. And make use of smartphone apps, lists, calendars, and other devices to ease the burden on your overtaxed mind.
5. Discuss your concerns with your doctor. If you regularly experience worrisome memory glitches and they're making you anxious, or you have a family history of Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, it's wise to seek a professional evaluation.