Age and menopause: Late menopause may mean a better memory in old age

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It seems that those women lucky enough to have a late menopause (or perhaps they may not feel lucky dealing with prolonged periods?) may enjoy an added memory boost.

A University College London study, published in the journal Neurology in April 2018, found that women who experienced a later natural menopause had higher verbal memory scores across adult life, up to the age of 69.

The study looked at a number of variables including age at menopause, whether or not menopause was natural, ie. had a woman had a hysterectomy or ovaries removed, or taken HRT. Other factors considered were childhood cognitive ability, level of education, smoking and employment history.

What did the results find?

  • Women who had a natural menopause tended to have higher verbal memory.  
  • There was little difference in cognitive ability between women who started menopause early and those who started later.
  • In women who experienced surgical menopause, there was no relationship between age at the time of surgery and memory scores.

The team at University College London who conducted the research believe more years of oestrogen may benefit memory.

It seems that naturally-flowing oestrogen may play a role in protecting brain function and stopping its decline. Women topping up their oestrogen with HRT didn’t score so highly on the memory tests.

The study will follow these women up to see if this converts into a reduced risk of dementia as they age and their risk of dementia increases. Lead author of the study, Dr Diana Kuh, said: ‘The difference in verbal memory scores for a ten-year difference in the start of menopause was small but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later'.

65% of the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK are women. DrAoife Kiely, of the Alzheimer’s Society, speculates that oestrogen could be the link, 'previous research has suggested that the female hormone oestrogen could play an important role in memory, which might help to explain why more women than men have the condition. The age that a woman reaches menopause was also thought to be a big factor, but this study suggests that lifelong changes in oestrogen have a bigger effect on memory'.