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Memory problems at menopause: Nothing to forget about

estrogen. Doctors long thought that hormone-replacement therapy helped protect women against cognitive decline. But three years ago, scientists announced that HRT slightly raises the risk of developing dementia. Those results came soon after other results where scientists said that HRT brings with it increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

When it comes to memory, a study in 2003 of more than 800 women found no evidence that memory problems occur as part of menopause. But neuropsychologists like Weber and Mapstone continue to see a steady stream of patients reporting memory problems as they approach menopause, mixing in with more typical older patients with problems like Alzheimer's disease.

So Weber and Mapstone put 24 women who complained of memory problems through a battery of tests that tested several cognitive skills, not just traditional memory, where a piece of information is stored away and then retrieved later.

Like the 2003 study, Weber and Mapstone found no evidence that women approaching menopause suffer from strictly memory problems any more than anyone else of the 24 women tested, they found only one who had any type of impaired memory, where a person flat out forgets things she once knew or remembered.

Looking more closely, however, they did find that the women who complained more about problems with forgetfulness had a harder time learning or "encoding" new information, which can masquerade as a problem with memory. While the team found a clear correlation between the level of the women's complaints and their ability to learn new information, Weber and Mapstone point out that none of the women actually had an impaired ability to learn new information. They say a larger, more thorough study, involving hundreds of women and a broad array of cognitive tests before and during menopause, is needed to understand the link more fully.

Mapstone and Weber liken the problem of encoding new information
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
3-Feb-2006


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