A new study has found that women may have a new area to keep an eye on when it comes to their cognitive health. Researchers say they have found evidence that a decline in cognitive function happens not only during menopause, but also in the post-menopausal stage.
Menopause has long been a gender-specific risk factor for cognitive impairment. However, researchers said this is the first study to show that the impact on brain function lasts beyond the menopausal stage.
Researchers published the study in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). They wrote that the new study is “the first known study to assess changes in cognitive performance across menopause stages. It specifically showed cognitive declines over time in learning, memory, and attention from pre menopause to early perimenopause and from pre menopause to post menopause.”
They added that many of the changes reached “a clinically significant level of cognitive impairment.”
Studies on Menopause and Cognition
Menopause occurs about 12 months after a natural decline in reproductive hormones results in a woman’s last menstrual cycle. While women go through menopause at different ages, it typically happens in their late 40s or 50s.
Symptoms of menopause can include depression, anxiety, difficulties sleeping and hot flashes. Past studies have also shown that women going through menopause experience cognitive issues.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that two-thirds of women experience subjective cognitive impairment during menopause. These include attention and language deficits.
What makes the new study different is that it found cognitive issues continue post-menopausal.
New Research Focuses on Long-Term Cognitive Impact of Menopause
The new study involved more than 400 women who agreed to participate before, during and after going through menopause. Researchers wanted to focus on the duration of cognitive issues after the end of menopause, since previous studies had suggested cognitive issues clear up in the post-menopausal phase.
The researchers found that was not the case. The study involved women who were primarily low-income women of color, including women with HIV. Researchers found that “significant cognitive declines/cognitive impairment persist into post menopause, affecting primarily learning and memory. Subtler declines in attention were additionally found to continue into the post menopause period.”
The study lasted for years. The women first agreed to start taking cognitive tests during the pre-menopausal period, then once every two years for up to six visits. They were tested for verbal learning and memory, attention/working memory, processing speed, verbal fluency, motor skills and executive function.
While HIV may have been a factor, researchers noted that cognitive issues continued post-menopausal for test subjects without HIV, as well.
Dr. Stephanie Faubion, the medical director for NAMS, said in a press release that the study “adds to existing literature on cognitive changes across the menopause transition and showed a significant cognitive decline in learning and memory that persisted into post menopause.” She called for more research into the possible factors that contributed to the cognitive changes.
For women, it’s good to become aware of the possibility of cognitive changes that last beyond menopause. Consulting with a physician and taking steps to maintain good cognitive health may be more important than ever during this period of a woman’s life.