Is my old brain back. Actually, it hasn’t been so great for a few years. Can I go back to my 1988 brain?
It was once thought that lack of estrogen was responsible for memory loss in women beginning their trips toward menopause. Fortunately the medical establishment has changed its mind because if I were to start taking estrogen now I would go MAD. Estrogen dominance or estrogen depletion? Estrogen can spike and dip erratically during perimenopause. Do I supplement, or not? GAHHHHHHHHHHHH
Fortunately it’s not a dilemma I need to face: Researchers have discovered that although estrogen is important for vasomotor skills and brain functioning, estrogen does little to improve a bad memory. Still, you’ll find all sorts of advice all over the internet that the answer to menopausal memory loss is estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The drug companies gotta make their profits donchaknow, nevermind that HRT contributes to estrogen dominance and makes things worse.
So. if estrogen loss isn’t the culprit, what is? The good knews is also the bad news: The symptoms of menopause themselves are responsible for the cognitive problems. Hot flashes and sleep loss. Heavy menstruation, mood swings. Hormone fluctuations and imbalance, basically. They cause anemia and massive stress, which in turn cause memory loss. It really is that simple.
First, let’s talk about all the blood loss: I don’t care how smart and determined you are, because when not enough blood gets to the brain you’ll start experiencing memory loss, period. No pun intended. I can report from direct personal experience that blood loss causes brain fog and confusion, and a complete lack of awareness or caring that one might actually die from it.
An acute bleed, on the other hand, can mess with the mind. “When patients bleed significantly from a hemorrhage and they are anemic, until they get replenished with blood they may end up having cognitive dysfunction because of loss of oxygen to the brain,” says Shander.
“Some women can be chronically anemic from heavy periods. They may need to stay on long-term iron therapy until bleeding is managed or stops with menopause,” Lukes says.
– Pumping Iron: Replenishing Iron After Anemia
Even more importantly, being jerked around by one’s hormones is extremely stressful and exhausting, especially when PMS morphs into PMDD, where even suicidal thoughts, even if unwarranted and unwanted, can haunt the mind. It craps out the adrenals, which then can’t create important hormones because they’re too busy making cortisol to deal with the stress. Stress leads to cognitive trouble, which leads to relationship problems, which create more stress, including stress blackouts, the penultimate form of memory loss, second only to alzheimers.
It’s a vicious cycle. Women feel terrible, don’t perform well and feel guilty about it. They feel as though they’re not good enough mothers. They feel like they’re screwing up at work (they probably are). Their relationships with friends and loved ones crash upon the rocks. Mind over matter doesn’t work, which causes even more stress.
Worse of all, the people around them don’t understand what’s going on, and thus offer no support whatsoever. Instead of support, women just get anger, blame, rejection, and when a loved one has a sadistic streak, “punishment,” which only backfires, because the problem isn’t lack of discipline. On the contrary it causes even more stress, which only increases the odds of future blackouts.
guilt vs. remorse
So what to do?
Do whatever I can to steady my hormones. Other than that, the only apparent treatments are sleep, a good diet, a multivitamin, a mineral supplement, exercise and stress reduction. Menopause will solve the problem when it’s all over. That’s it. That’s all I can do, besides ride it out. Which leads to the obvious question: What the fuck kind of solution is THAT? I don’t have the time or leeway to wait. I’m only45. I have people in my life and a technical and math-intensive job. But with the exception of a multivitamin or mineral supplement to eliminate any deficiencies there are no drugs, no “brain foods,” no herbal supplements that will do a damn bit of good. Women take black cohosh, but really, does it work? The jury is out. It may only be good for hot flashes. Believe me, hot flashes are the least of my troubles.
I’ve checked my screaming oracles at ifate.com twice on this menopause madness. The I-Ching has never let me down; I’m always able to come away from a reading with a good feel for what needs to be done. Both times the message was, tough luck, there will be pitfalls, this is a test of faith, you need to remain vigilant and persevere, but resistance is futile. The I-Ching actually said Resistance is futile. I am not to fight with my mind, but just observe what it is doing. Wait it out. Rest. Spend some time alone. It’s temporary, and there will be deliverance and joy at the end.
In the mean time . . . here’s what us ladies have to look forward to with perimenopause if we haven’t gone through it already. They look like the signs of early alzheimers, yes? Fortunately alzheimers doesn’t run in my family. I can lick this memory problem I should remain sharp until my 100’s. Anyway, the ones with the red X are what I’m going through now:
- Losing your train of thought more often than in the past X
- Forgetting what you came into a room to get more than in the past X
- Not being able to concentrate as well upon demand X
- Feeling foggy, hazy, and cotton-headed and not being able to clear it up at will X
- Experiencing a thought blockade: an inability to pull ideas out at will
- Fluctuating agility in prioritizing as well as in the past
- Naming difficulties for long-known names: children, best friends, things, places X
- Finding yourself at a loss for words in how to express something while speaking
- Experiencing “It’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t get it out” sensation
- Making malapropisms: saying wrong words that are related some how to the intended one
- Reversing whole words while speaking
- Reversing the first letters of words while speaking
- Experiencing “echo” words as unintentional intrusions into present speech
- Relying on “filler” words more often: “whatchamacallit,” “that thing,” “you know what I mean” X
- Organizing sentences and ideas less efficiently while speaking
CHANGES IN THE “BEAM” OF ATTENTION
- Blinking social attention when interested and interacting: listening but not always attending X
- Blanking-out amnesia for what you just did X
- Experiencing increased distractability X
MEMORY CHANGES: SHORT- AND LONG-TERM
- Forgetting what you just did, or past occurrences, with no threads of association to getting back to what’s missing: missing links X
- Changing certainty in how words should be spelled in once good or great spellers X
- Fluctuating agility in calculating and in “counting with a quick scanning look” X
- Experiencing changes in the speed and accuracy of memory retrieval X
- Forgetting the content of a movie right after seeing it but remembering your emotional reaction to it X
- Making behavioral “malapropisms”: unintended slips in behavior that are related to the intended behavior somehow, such as putting shampoo inthe refrigerator X
- Forgetting briefly how to do things long known, such as where to turn on the computer X
- Feeling that automatic skills such as driving for a few moments are not “automatic” in the same way as usual
- Dropping things more often that require fine finger/hand coordination X
- Absentmindedly, leaving out or reversing letters in words while writing
- Forgetting how to write a word in the middle of writing and having to leave blanks
- Experiencing “translating” hesitations in converting what’s heard into writing
- Not handling the same amount of stress in the same way X
SPATIAL SKILLS CHANGES
- Changing skill in remembering and/or recognizing faces (not well-known faces)
- “Looking at but not seeing” what you are looking for when it’s right there ultimately, more than in the past X
- Changing reading skill in visually “seeing” and comprehending reading material
- Spending less time reading, without difficulties above (for formerly heavy-duty readers)
- Forgetting briefly how to get to long-known landmarks in your life X
- Experiencing familiar locales in one’s experience as momentarily unfamiliar X
ALTERED SENSE OF TIME
- Forgetting appointments more or not anticipating events of personal importance with the same accuracy as in the past X
- Forgetting important events in your personal history timeline, i.e., which breast you had biopsied X
- “Living more in the moment” out of necessity: a “spliced-film-frames” sense of personal time X
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