Can Hormone Replacement Therapy Help Your Memory?
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
If you are going through perimenopause or menopause, do you feel like you are losing your mind? No joke, you are not alone, and your feelings are genuine and legitimate. Short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and problems with attention all affect memory. The direct relationship between hormone decline and memory problems is not easy to define since much of what we know is based on self-report and not a lot of research.
The interplay between hormones and all aspects of physical, emotional, and cognitive health is complicated, but we are learning more and more all the time. Let’s explore how hormone replacement therapy can help you feel better and probably improve your memory too.
Hormone Decline and Memory
The neurobiology of memory is beyond the scope of this article. But, a good working definition of memory is “the faculty of the brain by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed.” Attention is closely tied to memory. On a practical level, you know when you are reading a book and thinking about something else. When you get to the end of the page you realize you have no idea what you read. Good thing you won’t be tested on your memory of the content of that page! You have to attend to information to retain it.
Scientists have not been able to explain the complex relationship between hormone decline and memory fully. But, there is evidence that estrogen, in particular, affects memory. Estrogen helps to regulate memory formation in both genders. Most people probably don’t consider estrogen as having a significant impact on memory, but research shows that it does.
A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston showed that a woman's performance on specific memory tasks tends to decline as her estrogen levels drop. The average age range was between the ages of 45 to 55, which is when most women start menopause. We also know that women are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. New research has shown a link between estrogen and dementia.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Karyn Frick is considered a global expert on how estrogen effects memory. Dr. Frick’s latest research reveals some significant differences in the memory process for women and men. “She’s discovered that, in women, the presence of estrogens links the hippocampus to a different part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex, where long-term memories are stored – and boosts memory mechanisms in both areas...It’s not like menopausal women can’t remember anything.... but with estrogens, they remember better.”
Other Factors Affecting Memory
Hormone decline during perimenopause and menopause has other significant physical and secondary psychological effects on women that impact attention and memory. Anyone who is going through perimenopause and menopause can tell you that it is a challenging experience.
Sleep disturbance and sleep apnea are hallmark symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Hot flashes, sleep apnea (more common for women during menopause), depression, and anxiety all affect sleep. Studies show the crucial role sleep plays in learning and memory. Sleep affects learning and memory in two ways:
Lack of sleep adversely affects a person's ability to focus and learn efficiently.
Sleep is necessary to consolidate memories so you can recall them in the future.
Hormone decline can make it harder to cope with stress, and stress can adversely affect hormones. Stress management skills are a daily routine that involves taking time for yourself and essential self-care like a plant-based diet and exercise.
The results on exercise are in, and they are conclusive. Exercise improves mood and cognition. In a very recent study, older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed improvements in brain blood flow and memory after a year-long aerobic exercise program. Countless other studies show the positive effects of exercise on cognition.
Depression and Anxiety
Unfortunately, perimenopause and menopause put women at a higher risk of depression due to fluctuating and falling hormone levels. Depression has been linked to memory problems, such as forgetfulness or confusion. Depression and anxiety can also make it difficult to attend to work or other tasks, make decisions, or think clearly.
Hormone Replacement and Memory
Studies on hormone replacement and memory are mixed, with several studies showing a positive impact of hormone replacement on memory. One study showed that women who had undergone hormone replacement therapy had better working memory than women who did not.
This we know, bioidentical hormone replacement has a positive and significant impact on improving sleep, energy, strength, attention, and libido. And remember our discussion on attention? Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women often have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder like symptoms, including problems with:
The Bottom Line
If you have a relatively sudden unexplained memory loss problem, we recommend you ask your doctor to evaluate your memory to rule out any neurological problem. However, if your mental confusion and memory loss seem to coincide with perimenopause and menopause, we can help with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Don’t accept the idea that these mental changes are a “natural” part of the aging process. Take a proactive stance and advocate for your well-being and happiness.