Menofog. Mental break. Perifog. Menobrain. Brain Fog has many nicknames, but whatever you call it, this menopausal symptom causes distress to women who suffer from it.
“I find it frustrating. I feel stupid,” Tania Wastney, 52, told HealthyWomen. Wastney described her brain fog as simple mix-ups – putting milk in her coffee instead of cream – and moments of forgetfulness, like forgetting her phone’s password despite using the same code for years.
Dr. Barb DePree, director of Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, stated that brain fog is expressed as forgetfulness for most women. She described walking into a room and forgetting why or trying to remember a person’s name.
“Typically,” DePree said, “we associate the term” brain fog “with the transition to menopause.” However, it often persists in early menopause.
At the age of 47, Judith Roszyk, who is completing her Masters in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, is in this transition, also known as the perimenopause. Roszyk has had brain fog for two years and it can ruin your day.
“That makes decision-making difficult and details are often overlooked,” said Roszyk. “My cognitive skills are slowing down, my reactions are slowing down; it feels like my neurons are working in slow motion, like they’re stoned.”
In a 2014 study, between 60% and 82% of women reported having decreased memory and mental clarity during perimenopause and menopause. And while aging is recognized to play a role in memory literacy, brain fog is not synonymous with aging.
“What happens to the aging brain isn’t just for women,” DePree said. “But for most women the difference is that for them this is a very abrupt change in the sand that coincides with menopause.” Many women, DePree continued, find the reassurance that their partners are likely to have similar memory lapses due to aging, but brain fog is not a term used to describe men’s health.
As Roszyk and Wastney have described, brain fog often affects daily chores. DePree confirmed that it often affects the quality of life.
“A lot of women talk about work-related disorders. They feel less competent in their ability to communicate effectively,” noted DePree. “Many women feel that it takes longer to process [information]In her practice, too, DePree sees women step aside in the office because they feel less competent. In fact, other women HealthyWomen spoke to on this piece had similar concerns.
“It’s very frustrating,” said DePree. However, the level of frustration depends on the daily demands of each woman. She said some might find brain fog a great frustration while others find it mild. “It doesn’t affect all women equally,” added DePree. Some women will never see it.
Where does the fog come from?
The disruption – and subsequent absence – of estrogen plays an important role in the onset of brain fog. As DePree explained, estrogen is neuroprotective (meaning that it protects nerve cells from damage and degeneration). It is known to boost the immune system, protect neurons from damage, while promoting new nerve connections. And it’s the primary hormone that is affected by menopause. As hormones begin to wane during perimenopause, DePree said, “It’s not surprising to know that the brain is affected.”
There are also additional symptoms of perimenopause at work. Sleep disorders, often caused by hot flashes or night sweats, as well as anxiety and depression, can also affect memory, focus, and concentration.
DePree said word retrieval and forgetfulness worry many women that they are experiencing the first signs of dementia – and that most women don’t.
However, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. For a small subgroup of people, brain fog can be the beginning of a cognitive impairment that could one day be Alzheimer’s.
Because women who have had hysterectomies with premature ovarian removal are at higher risk for dementia, DePree said, “We know hormones play a role.”
Fortunately, most women who experience brain fog return to what DePree called their baseline at some point, since brain fog is not permanent. And while that baseline might look a little different because of aging, DePree emphasized, “We don’t lose intelligence or knowledge.”
When asked how long brain fog can last, DePree said there are too many variables to set a time frame. More importantly, the choices women made during that time can have lasting effects, such as: B. the termination of their job or the refusal of promotions. “My message to women is this: Try not to make your world smaller because you haven’t lost your mind.”
Lifestyle management can help
“Cognitive health, like physical health, requires maintaining good health,” said DePree. Disease management such as exercise, smoking cessation, good food (DePree recommends a largely Mediterranean diet), adequate sleep, and social engagement are useful tools for maintaining and improving memory and cognition.
Hormone therapy (HT) can also help. “We understand that when hormone therapy is used appropriately – timed and dosed appropriately – there can be far-reaching benefits, particularly cognitive benefits,” said DePree.
Some data, she said, suggest that starting hormone therapy in early menopause or late perimenopause might help protect against dementia. “My experience has shown that hormone therapy is beneficial for women with brain fog,” DePree said. HT can also improve sleep and help with mood, anxiety, or depression.
DePree said women should have a conversation with their health care provider about brain fog, family history, and health risks while taking care of themselves.
“Brain fog,” she concluded, “is not inevitable.”