It has been estimated that, by 2050, nearly 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease. Two-thirds of these cases are expected to be women. Attending to memory decline well before symptoms occur can help middle-aged and older adults procure a lengthy quality of life, but first, it is necessary to identify factors that may be within our control. Studies suggest that menopause is one of the various factors that influence this risk. While every woman will go through menopause (uncontrollable factor), there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the severity of age-related brain changes (controllable variable). Here, we discuss this topic in more detail.
What happens to women’s brains through the menopause transition?
We tend to look at the sexual and reproductive aspects of perimenopause and menopause, not the cognitive implications of hormone changes. As a woman transitions through menopause, her body makes less estrogen. The depletion can also involve estradiol, a form of estrogen that is directly related to memory performance and the reorganizing of brain circuitry that helps regulate memory function. During perimenopause and menopause, the way in which brain cells are generated and connect to each other changes, also, impacting the regions of the brain in which memory functions occur. The brain also receives less glucose so has less fuel to power brain cells. Studies suggest that women with chronic health conditions like diabetes or hypertension may have an increased risk of more significant brain changes.
Is Hormone Replacement the Answer?
More scientific research is needed to more thoroughly understand the value of hormone replacement therapy, HR, for cognitive function after menopause. At this time, it is believed that positive effects may be achieved when HR is started early during perimenopause or menopause. Women who begin HR in late menopause could face counterproductive effects that actually increase the risk of cognitive decline over time. That said, few studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of hormone replacement before menopause. The primary area of study in this context is on women with hysterectomy-induced menopause. In this situation, cognitive function seems to be sustained with hormone replacement therapy.
What Women Can Do to Maintain Brain Health in Mid-Life and Beyond
The pillars of memory function include physical activity, cognitive activity, and social contact. The first two benefit the brain at a cellular level, whereas social contact is said to activate the brain via external stimuli, differing perspectives, and novel experiences. Additionally, dietary habits can positively affect brain health. Women may benefit from a quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Finally, sleep is paramount to long-term brain health. Research indicates that there are certain periods of sleep in which learning is consolidated and amyloid, a marker for Alzheimer’s Disease, is cleared out of the brain.
Summit Healthcare in Show Low, AZ offers quality women’s services. Contact us today to learn more or to find a provider.