Menopause & Memory: Hot Flashes Impair Recollection Skills, Study Suggests

CLEVELAND — The onset of menopause is associated with a number of health complications, and now a new study has identified an additional symptom: memory problems brought on by hot flashes. Researchers say that physiological hot flashes are associated with verbal memory issues and trouble retrieving certain memories.

Hot flashes, or sudden feelings of warmth, appear to interfere with certain brain functions in menopausal women connected to encoding and recalling memory items in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

Prior research had already established that women going through menopause often report a decline in memory skills, particularly in reference to recalling past stories or specific words. For this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was utilized to observe how hot flashes influence menopausal women’s brain functions as they encode and retrieve memories.

A total of 14 women, with an average age of 53 and a half years old, took part in the study. Each woman completed fMRI assessments while participating in word encoding and recognition activities, and additional questionnaires and verbal memory tests.

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This study separates itself from previous research efforts on this topic by taking advantage of MRIs to confirm when hot flashes occurred, as opposed to simply relying on patient recall. The MRIs also allowed researchers to observe real-time changes in participating women’s brains as they completed a series of memory tasks.

Of course, further and more exhaustive testing is going to be necessary in order to fully understand the dynamic between menopausal hot flashes and brain activity. Nonetheless, this study illustrates for the first time that important brain functions associated with memory appear to be impeded by menopausal hot flashes.

“The findings of this preliminary study, although small, support an association between objectively monitored hot flashes and adverse functional changes in the brain that affect memory. Further study is needed to determine whether hot flashes actually cause these brain changes and whether treatment of hot flashes will prevent or normalize them,” comments Dr. Stephanie Faubion, North American Menopause Society medical director, in a release.

The study is published in Menopause.

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