Memory lapses and changes in mental functions occur naturally as we get older. But for many women going through menopause, these memory lapses occur more frequently.
A recent report offers hope for women suffering with these symptoms. In a study published in Menopause, Feb. 2011, researchers at University of Pennsylvania found that atomoxetine (brand name Strattera), a medication for attention deficit disorder, may restore organizational skills and reduce memory difficulties in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Some memory changes are normal for women as they approach menopause. In the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, 3,000 women were studied annually with cognitive testing for several years before and after menopause. Short term memory was found to worsen. In clinical practice, some women suffer more extreme memory deficits or experience 'mental fog.' In some cases, women going through menopause struggle with 'executive function,' the brain's ability to organize tasks in a rational fashion.
"This study provides us with a fresh look at the complaint of mental fog," says Dr. Nanette Santoro of University of Colorado Department of OB/GYN. "Some of the subjective complaints our patients may have, such as difficulty with task organization, may be treatable using the same medications that are useful to treat people with attention deficit type problems."
Dr. Santoro knows first-hand how menopause can affect women (see Help! Menopause Stole My Brain!).
"Usually I like to wait until new treatments have been proven effective in several independent studies," says Dr. Santoro. "But sometimes a new idea comes along that poses little risk and has the potential to be of great benefit to the patient."
Doctors have few medications that address 'mental fog' and cognition deficits in the menopause transition, Santoro says, with the exception of hormone medication.
"If hormones don't do the trick, I'd offer a trial of this treatment, with a full disclosure of its lack of extensive testing to date, the fact that it is off-label [FDA-approved for another use], and a review of its risks."
University of Colorado Division of General OB/GYN