Menopause and Memory Loss

Recent studies seem to suggest that some women may suffer memory problems as they go through menopause.  If you or a friend or family member has a menopausal brain, you may not be shocked by this finding.

However, this was apparently big news to the countless medical professionals who weren't taking menopausal women seriously when they were telling them "OMG I can't remember a goddamned f--cking thing anymore!" that they were experiencing memory difficulties.

As it happens, I'm 53 years old, and there is some possible evidence that my memory is less than optimal.

In fact, at the risk of putting one of the world's most annoying songs in your head, I almost entitled this post:

"Some Call Me the Space Cowgirl."

But alas, since no one has ever called me "the gangster of love," or even "Maurice," the whole Steve Miller song lyric thing broke down pretty quickly.  Which is probably good because then I'd have to speak to the whole pompitous of love issue, and I'm not entirely clear where I stand on that.

Anyway, what was it I was talking about?

Oh, that's right!

Research on Menopause and Memory Loss

So one study of menopausal memory followed 403 women over 5 years, and found "the natural transition to menopause exerts a negative impact on immediate and delayed verbal recall." Specifically, menopause was messing with their ability to remember lists of words, which didn't sound to me like something that would come up all that much in real life, until I remembered that I constantly forget my grocery list and come back home without half the things on there because I have no freaking memory anymore.

So it looks like hot flashes may be at least partly to blame for this memory thing. A 2008 study or 29 midlife women found that those who had the most hot flashes had the most verbal memory impairment. But interestingly, many women were under-reporting the number of hot flashes they actually had. And it turns out there was no correlation between the number of hot flashes women thought they were having and their memory decline--it was all about how many they really did have.  Which points to it being a physiological thing, not a psychological thing, isn't that clever?

In another study of menopause, hot flashes and memory, 68 women who had at least 35 hot flashes a week were given a bunch of memory tests and asked about their mood and their own sense of whether or not their memory was going down the toilet. (The phrasing might have been slightly different). Turns out, the women knew pretty damn well when their memory was getting crappy, and gave "an accurate appraisal of their memory function."  Also, hot flashes and negative mood were related to memory performance.

And finally, yet another study discovered that the first year of menopause is the worst for memory finding that biggest declines happened then for attention/working memory, verbal learning, verbal memory, and fine motor speed.

Menopausal Memory Case Study

Let's say, totally hypothetically, you do an observational study of a 53 year old female during a random couple of months a few years after her hysterectomy.

Pretend you're a medical professional, what would you think?

Despite being an excellent speller in her youth, the subject can not recall how to spell any words that a 6 year old doesn't know. When composing on the computer she is greeted with red squiggle after red squiggle for the same words over and over, and never seems to be able to come up with common words such as "embarrassment" or "disappointing" or "occasional" on the first or sometimes even the fifth try. And don't even get her started on the word "rhythm." Can someone please buy it a real vowel or two?

She constantly walks into rooms forgetting what she came in for; she lost her wallet twice and her favorite jacket once in the last few months, although two of those occasians occassions occasions turned out to be false alarms. Despite mounting intensive exhaustive searches over several days she failed to see them sitting in plain sight in places she had already looked multiple times. Her patient spouse had to "see" them for her.

Shall we take a peek at her camera phone and see what's on there?

This is the subject's MP3 Player which is photographed here after it had been lying in the middle of Highway 6 for the previous 45 minutes. Is this a location you would choose to store electronic equipment?

The subject went on two different walks and was still heading away from home when she took these pictures:

Always good to be the only vertical object within miles when a thunderstorm approaches.

Not surprisingly, she came home completely soaked both times.

On the plus side, the subject does remember to wear her helmet when she bikes!

However, recently she biked to her favorite running trail and locked it up and went off for a run and did not notice until she was a mile down the trail that she was still wearing her helmet. This, alas, is not the most fashionable look though who knows, perhaps she could start a trend.

These were some fresh flowers a friend brought.  As the subject's spouse was out of town, this is what they looked like by the time the subject noticed they might be getting a little wilty.

Note the difference between these two objects:

One is an electric kettle that sits on a base which is plugged into the wall, and one is the old fashioned kind of kettle that goes directly on the stove.

Can you guess which one she recently almost burnt the house down with by spacing out and putting it directly on the stove? She only noticed when the blue flames turned yellow which looked kinda funny.

Here is a dramatic re-enactment.

What do you think? Are you ready to put down your pencils and find out the results?

Menopausal Memory Case Study Diagnosis

This subject is NOT suffering from clinically significant Menopausal Memory Loss!

Despite what looks like obvious symptoms, differential diagnosis is important.

In this case, the subject was already suffering from middle-aged memory loss well before her hysterectomy. This level of functioning is entirely normal for her.

In fact, the subject has had a reputation for being inattentive, distracted, vague, easily confused, and otherwise memory impaired for decades.  If you walk into a kitchen and discover every cabinet door has been left open you know she has been there, even though she will swear she always closes them every single time.

The subject prefers to think that this condition, OuterAtmospheric Cognitive Orientation Disorder (aka Space Cadet Personality Disorder) is just an annoying but semi-endearing artifact of a busy mind. People with this condition tend to focus on abstract ideas, engaging daydreams or bizarre musings about trivia rather than boring concrete down-to-earth things like "is the object I am approaching the stove with really something I want to set on fire?"

An additional diagnosis which explains the recent irrational behavior resulting in unwelcome drenchings is Weatherdotcom Delusional Disorder.  This afflicts wishful thinkers who go to an internet weather site, see a prediction they would like to be true, and despite all evidence to the contrary rely on it past all common sense. Repeated instances of being totally inaccurate and blatant signs of approaching storms are powerless against this delusion.

So, anyone else having memory trouble or are you all doing just fine? 

Comic: Natalie Dee; Astronaut: wikipedia commons.

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