Professor Weber and her team focused on 75 participants, from age 40 to 60, who were approaching or beginning menopause. They put the women through a rigorous series of brain tests to obtain information on what is happening in their brains as they hit menopause. The assessments looked at several skills, including their abilities to learn and retain new information, to mentally manipulate new information, and to sustain their attention over time. The women also answered questions about menopause symptoms related to depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and sleep difficulties. Those who had memory complaints were more likely to do poorly in tests that measured 'working memory' - the ability to take in new information and manipulate it in their heads. Such tasks in real life might include calculating numbers in one's head. Scientists also found that the women's reports of memory difficulties were associated with a lessened ability to keep and focus attention on a challenging task. That might include keeping a focused attention on the road during a long drive or getting through a challenging book.
Women who reported memory difficulties were also more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. In general, anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of women report forgetfulness and other difficulties that they view as related to poor memory during the menopause. "Science is finally catching up to the reality that women don't suddenly go from their reproductive prime to becoming infertile. There is this whole transition period that lasts years. It's more complicated than people have realized," said Professor Weber. The report was published in the North American Menopause Society's journal Menopause.