Verbal memory and menopause
- •Menopausal hormone therapy should not be prescribed for the sole purpose of improving cognition.
- •Midlife women should be advised that memory complaints are common during the menopausal transition and memory problems appear to return to baseline during the postmenopausal period.
- •Midlife women should be advised that dementia is rare at this age and referral to a neurologist should only be recommended if memory problems significantly disrupt daily function.
- •Women should be advised to practice healthy sleep habits and engage in cardiovascular exercise to improve memory.
Midlife women frequently report memory problems during the menopausal transition. Recent studies validate those complaints by showing significant correlations between memory complaints and performance on validated memory tasks. Longitudinal studies demonstrate modest declines in verbal memory during the menopausal transition and a likely rebound during the postmenopausal stage. Clinical studies that examine changes in memory following hormonal withdrawal and add-back hormone therapy (HT) demonstrate that estradiol plays a critical role in memory. Although memory changes are frequently attributed to menopausal symptoms, studies show that the memory problems occur during the transition even after controlling for menopausal symptoms. It is well established that self-reported vasomotor symptoms (VMS) are unrelated to objective memory performance. However, emerging evidence suggests that objectively measured VMS significantly correlate with memory performance, brain activity during rest, and white matter hyperintensities. This evidence raises important questions about whether VMS and VMS treatments might affect memory during the menopausal transition. Unfortunately, there are no clinical trials to inform our understanding of how HT affects both memory and objectively measured VMS in women in whom HT is indicated for treatment of moderate to severe VMS. In clinical practice, it is helpful to normalize memory complaints, to note that evidence suggests that memory problems are temporary, and to counsel women with significant VMS that memory might improve with treatment.