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The connection between brain fog and menopause

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Body Positive, Menopause, Women's Health

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This year for World Menopause Day, the theme is cognition and mood. As you know, I am very interested in all thing’s menopause. But you might not know that I am currently working with Synapse – Australia’s leading organisation supporting those with brain injury.

My role with Synapse is content creation – so for the last three months have been diving heavily into the brain and, more specifically, how to support its function.

The brain is a fascinating topic, and it starts to become top of mind for many women entering perimenopause and menopause. Why?

Well, hello, Brain Fog!

What is brain fog, and why does it happen?

Hot flushes might get all the attention; however, another symptom of menopause that is overlooked is brain fog. Brain fog can cause forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and confusion. Brain fog is a common symptom of menopause.

It can cause problems with concentration, memory, and decision-making.

Some examples of brain fog are:

  • Forgetting words
  • Forgetting people’s names
  • Going into a room and forgetting your reason for going there
  • Misplacing items
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetting events

Changes in hormone levels during menopause, particularly the drop in oestrogen, affect the brain’s chemistry and lead to brain fog symptoms. Additionally, menopause can cause sleep disruptions and contribute to cognitive problems.

Finally, stress and anxiety are common during menopause and can worsen brain fog symptoms.

Does menopausal brain fog mean early signs of dementia?

Many women worry that brain fog is a sign of dementia. However, a study [1] released in 2022 has conclusively shown that menopausal brain fog is not the same as dementia.

Dementia is a progressive disease that affects memory, thinking, and behaviour. It can interfere with a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks. Dementia before the age of 64 years is rare.

The symptom of menopause, brain fog, is a temporary condition. Once the hormone levels settle down in the post-menopause stage, the cognitive function returns. However, findings from the Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) concluded that any cognitive change is limited to perimenopause [2].

Oestrogen supplements such as HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or MHT (Menopause Hormone Therapy) will not safeguard your brain against dementia!

However, there are plenty of ways to support your brain and cognitive function through this challenging phase of menopause… and help yourself guard against future risk of dementia.

Ways to manage and cope with brain fog

  • Manage your energy 

Sitting and working for long periods is detrimental to draining your energy. Break up your work into small chunks – 20 – 25 mins and then get up and do something else. Talking to a friend, some incidental exercise, meditation or simple breathing exercises.

If you need support with this – try the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is a timer you set on your computer that has an alarm after 25 minutes to remind you to get up and do something differently.

Click this link to give it a try!

  • Eat and drink to properly fuel your body.

When we are tired and stressed, we crave fatty, sweet and carbohydrate food to help us through. However, during perimenopause, we are also prone to weight gain with changes in hormones and metabolic rates. Have snacks on hand that are great for fuelling your brain – like seeds and nuts, vegetables and fruit.

Ensure you are hydrated with water and watch your coffee and alcohol consumption.

  • Get moving

It will be no surprise that I will write this or that physical activity benefits our brain and supports cognitive function. And it does not need to be a marathon (though if that lights you up, then I have no judgement!).

In my experience of talking to many women about starting exercise, they feel they need to be doing lots to make it worthwhile. And that is a myth, especially for supporting your brain. Any movement can help. Try walking for 10 minutes in nature. Research has clearly shown what we all know – it boosts our mood!

  • Prioritise sleep

Poor sleep impacts cognitive function. And contrary to popular belief, you can’t catch up on lost sleep. Check out this research [3], which suggested that a person would need 4 hours of adequate rest to make up for 1 hour of lost sleep.

Some small practical changes that can assist with your sleep are:

  • Go to bed at the same time (within a 15-minute window) every night, including weekends
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine
  • Keep your room as dark and as quiet as possible
  • Wind down at least one hour before turning off the light
  • Use a watch like my one to track how much sleep you have and what quality it is

  • Quality time with quality people

Social connection is vital to our brain health. However, people who drain you have the opposite effect. I have written a whole blog here about toxic relationships and how to spot them. Quality time with quality people might mean a coffee together, or even a phone call should fill you up rather than deplete you.

Brain fog, menopause and cognition are all linked. Brain fog can cause problems with memory, focus and concentration, and menopause can worsen these symptoms. The good news is that it does not necessarily mean you are in line for dementia.

However, any steps you take to support your cognitive function will pay off again further down the line when age puts you at risk of dementia.

Are you a fitness professional interested in free training to support your clients who are experiencing fatigue?

(This could be fatigue from life, Long COVID or menopause).

(That are all in your scope of practice)

Click here to book into the next FREE training of:

 

Research cited in blog:

[1] P. M. Maki & N. G. Jaff (2022): Brain fog in menopause: a health-care professional’s guide for decision-making and counseling on cognition, Climacteric, DOI: 10.1080/13697137.2022.2122792

[2] Greendale GA, Huang MH, Wight RG, et al. Effects of the meno- pause transition and hormone use on cognitive performance in midlife women. Neurology. 2009;72(21):1850–1857.

[3] Kitamura, S., Katayose, Y., Nakazaki, K. et al. Estimating individual optimal sleep duration and potential sleep debt. Sci Rep 6, 35812 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep35812

 

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