So there I am, upstairs in the bathroom, repeating to myself: “Don’t forget to take the rubbish downstairs. Don’t forget to take the rubbish downstairs. Don’t forget to take the rubbish downstairs.” And then I’m downstairs, cursing to myself because I forgot to bring the rubbish with me.
The next day, I was on my way to work when I suddenly realised I’d left my handbag at home.
Not a bus pass, not my keys (they were all in my lunch bag), but my handbag, an item I’ve carried just about every day since I was 14.
This, my dear friends, is what the menopause does to you.
Memory issues – or “brain fog”, as it’s more often called – is a common menopause symptom. According to one study into menopausal brains, 60 per cent of middle-aged women have some form of difficulty concentrating and it’s higher among peri menopausal women (that period just before your periods stop completely, which is where I am).
As well as that, menopausal women also have difficulties when it comes to tasks such as reading instructions or listening to new facts or coordination, as well as… Oh, a pretty kitten video… sorry, as well as attention span.
When you think about it, it’s obvious why. While we think of oestrogen and progesterone controlling our fertility – so your womb and ovaries – there are receptors for them throughout our body, including the brain. Consequently, when their levels fall, it affects the brain as much as our ovaries. And you get brain fog.
Thankfully, studies have shown this is not a permanent loss and that your memory will improve in time.
There’s also some thought that our brain fog may not be as bad as we think it is, but that we’re more aware of it because we’re more aware of the negative impact the menopause is having on us. So because we know there are changes, we’re hyper-aware of being more forgetful or not being able to find the word we want.
(Saying that, if your memory loss is really bad and having a major impact on you and others, go to your doctor to make sure it isn’t an early sign of dementia or something else.)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help you overcome memory loss by restoring the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in your body. But there are other ways you can help ease your symptoms, too…
A little r’n’r
Easier said than done when you’re menopausal, I know, but getting enough rest and good sleep can really help brain fog. I find these tricks help me sleep a bit better, but you should also:
- avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime
- keep your room cool. Your body temperature naturally lowers when you sleep. By having your room cool, you help stimulate sleep and you can move through the sleep cycles easier. And you know, those hot flushes are gonna heat the place up too…
- relax before you go to bed – try some yoga or talk to whichever being “upstairs” you believe in. Anything that gets you in a relaxed state of mind and not thinking about the day-to-day problems you might have.
- meditate. No, this isn’t another hipster fad. There are plenty of scientific reasons to meditate, from boosting your overall health to making you happier. As far as brain fog is concerned, mediation increases your focus and attention plus your ability to multitask (ooooh, I remember doing that!). It will also help you keep a check on those rages that can flare up by making you more aware of what is going on in your mind. Headspace is a great app to get you started.
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome through the menopause, where your legs feel itchy or hurt when you relax, go and see your doctor. I suffered for years and it was so stupid of me because there is help out there.
Exercise beats brain fog
Bit like eating, this, isn’t it? A perennial favourite! But research shows that a little workout can help improve your memory and thinking skills.
A mere 30 minutes of cardio each day will do wonders for you – and it doesn’t have to be in the gym. A brisk walk will do the trick (think of all those elegant Spanish women doing their paseo around the town at night.)
Exercise opens your blood vessels to get the blood flowing and increases your oxygen levels and this all drastically improves your ability to think and act.
Do a mental workout
Exercising your brain is just as important for keeping the little grey cells fit and well. Mental challenges help create and strengthen your neural pathways and networks, which makes your brain stronger. They can also make it more flexible and adaptable to change.
Good ways to do this are to try:
- learning something new. From playing an instrument to learning to speak Icelandic, it doesn’t matter what you choose just so long as you stretch your mind;
- writing with your “wrong” hand. It sounds nuts, I know, but this is a great way to increase your brain activity and stimulate new parts. I had to do it at work for a while when I broke my right arm horse-riding and it really, really makes you concentrate;
- connect with others. Sitting at home alone is a sure way to vegetate. By talking to others and interacting with them, you’re going to engage more parts of the brain than you will watching Judge Rinder. (You can always talk to them about Judge Rinder.) Why not start a monthly Menopause Café so you can share your experiences and help other women in your situation?
Eat a balanced diet
I know, I know. It seems the answer to everything. Well, that’s because it often is!
Food is fuel for our body so it makes sense that if you’re eating the wrong fuel, your body is going to react. After all, you wouldn’t put diesel in an unleaded car and expect it to work as well, would you?
So eating the right things is important.
When I lived in Spain, I was amazed at the number of fit old people around. One friend had a great-grandmother who was in hospital with a broken leg and couldn’t wait to get back to her mountain village. She was in her late 90s but was as active and mentally competent as ever.
If that’s not a recommendation for the Mediterranean diet, I don’t know what is.
Rich in omega-3, which has been linked to helping decrease mental decline, the Mediterranean diet means eating things such as:
- fish, especially tuna, sardines, salmon and rainbow trout;
- whole grains such as 100 per cent wholewheat bread or pasta, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar wheat and quinoa (it’s not just for bearded hipsters. Honest). I eat this bulgar salad with cucumbers, red peppers and chickpeas for lunch in the summer and it’s gorgeous and so filling;
- beans and nuts (pretty explanatory – but obviously watch the calorie count);
- olive oil – try and get as good a quality as you can afford. Your tastebuds will love you for it;
- fresh fruit and vegetables.
Also, make sure you’re drinking enough water. Dehydration makes us groggy and slow so keep your water levels up. But make sure not to have too much, you don’t want to get water-logged.
And check out nutritionist Emily Farrell’s expert guide to eating well during the menopause, too.
Most of all, remember you’re not alone. If you’re having a menopause brain fog day, say so – you’ll be surprised how many people will sympathise.
How do you beat the brain fog? I’d love to hear your top tips in the comments below…
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