Forget where you placed your cell phone or having trouble remembering an acquaintance’s name? For many women in their peri-menopausal (the months or years leading up to menopause) or menopausal years (the time after a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period), difficulty concentrating and memory issues – also referred to as “brain fog”—are common complaints. Add in mood swings and anxiety, and any woman going through menopause might feel overwhelmed with what’s happening “in their head.” But changes in moods and memory are common complaints during perimenopause and menopause, and women should be aware of why these symptoms occur, and what they can do to cope with them.
Hormonal fluctuation and the decrease in estrogen production that comes with menopause can cause a number of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, weight-gain and sexual dysfunction. Some data suggests that these hormonal fluctuations might also contribute to symptoms such as brain fog and moodiness. These symptoms might also be attributed to normal aging and as a result of other menopausal symptoms, such as poor sleep due to night sweats and hot flashes.
The good news is that there is data that implies that moods level off and memory returns to pre-menopausal function after the menopause transition. For mild mood swings and occasional depressed moods, research suggests exercise, healthy diet, and stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness and yoga or other activities can help improve moods. Research also shows that for some perimenopausal women, low-dose oral contraceptives (estrogen-progestin combination) can help stabilize hormone levels and help mood swings (smokers over 35 should not use oral contraceptives.) Lastly, for severe depression, anti-depressants might be effective.
For a comprehensive and current discussion on menopause, one great resource is The Menopause Guidebook, published by the North American Menopause Society, the leading women’s health organization in the US.
Talk with your health care provider about your mental health, especially if your depression is prolonged and severe, or if you have concerns about your memory.