New study suggests menopause not linked to memory decline

September 22, 2003

CHICAGO -- Transitioning through menopause is not accompanied by a decline in working memory and perceptual speed, according to a study appearing in the Sept. 23 issue of Neurology Journal. In the study, led by researchers at the Department of Preventive Medicine, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, 803 randomly selected Chicago-area African American and white women aged 40 to 55 were tested annually for loss of brain function over the course of six years. The study, begun in 1996, is the first longitudinal study to track cognitive performance during menopause.

Participant scores were compared annually for women in premenopausal, during menopause, and postmenopausal groups. According to a "Patient Page" on menopause and brain function that appears in the Neurology Journal issue, "If menopause harms brain function, the test scores should have gone down the most for the postmenopause group, less for the group in menopause and not at all for the group not yet in menopause. The study did not find that pattern of decline. In fact, most groups improved their scores over time. In those groups that did go down, the size of the decline was so small that it could not be linked to menopause."

"The study is important because it shows that there is little or no risk for immediate memory loss during perimenopause," said Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of the Alzheimer's Association's Medical and Scientific Advisory Council, and director, Farber Institute for the Neurosciences of Thomas Jefferson University. "The issue for Alzheimer's disease is that it begins a decade or more before clinical cognitive or psychological changes are apparent. There remains an issue of whether perimenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) would be useful in preventing AD later on, and this study does not answer that question."

The study concludes that further analyses of other measures from the Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) may provide additional insight into factors associated with cognitive change during menopause. It may be, as some researchers have found, that cognitive functioning is related more to psychosocial predictors such as depression, stress, marital status, work, activity level, smoking status, overall health and obesity.

SWAN is an NIA-sponsored study of the natural history of the menopausal transition in a cohort of about 3,300 women from five ethnic groups who are assessed annually.
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The Alzheimer's Association is the world leader in Alzheimer research and support. To date, the Association has funded more than $150 million in Alzheimer research. Through a national network of advocates and chapters, the association advances research, improves services and care, creates awareness of Alzheimer's disease and mobilizes support. Visit www.alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

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