Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: Perimenopausal mental lags are real but temporary

In the journals

Perimenopausal mental lags are real but temporary

About 60% of women report problems with memory or learning — so-called mental fog — during perimenopause, the five to seven years leading up to menopause (the end of periods). This cognitive brownout could have a biological basis: brain regions responsible for memory and reasoning are rich in estrogen receptors, so fluctuating hormone levels might well cause cognitive glitches. Hot flashes, sleep loss, depression, and other perimenopausal symptoms may also have an impact on learning and recall. But there's been little good evidence that a woman's mental performance actually declines with the approach of menopause — until now.

According to a study published in the journal Neurology (May 2009), a woman's learning ability does indeed take a hit during perimenopause. The good news is, the problem is relatively minor — on the order of difficulty of remembering the name of someone you've just met — and it's temporary.

The findings are based on data from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a long-term investigation tracking the mental and physical health of more than 3,000 women going through the menopausal transition. Led by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the study involved 2,362 SWAN participants, each of whom took three short cognitive tests four times over a four-year period. The tests assessed information-processing speed, verbal memory, and working memory. Average scores were calculated for four stages of the menopausal transition — premenopause, early perimenopause, late perimenopause, and postmenopause.

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