A common symptom of the menopause – “brain fog” and the short-term memory loss that comes with it can be a source of alarm – but it doesn’t need to be. We speak to experts about the best (and simplest) ways to keep your mind active and your memory sharp.
From fluctuating hormones to disrupted sleep, there are lots of factors that can contribute to brain fog around the menopause. “Aside from the physiological changes going on, it is often a time of great change in a woman's life – from children moving out to parents getting ill – and the stress and anxiety that might accompany those changes can also contribute to memory problems,” explains Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani. The good news is that there is plenty you can do to soothe and sharpen your mind and start feeling like yourself again, putting the “me” back into the menopause.
“So much of the brain is made up of water that it is very sensitive to even small fluctuations in hydration,” says nutritionist Fiona Hunter. “When we are dehydrated we can’t think as quickly and we’re prone to fogginess and slowness. Drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning then keep your levels topped up throughout the day. Small regular drinks are better than infrequent larger ones. There are lots of apps you can download that will remind you to take a drink. If you don’t like plain water you can perk up the flavour by adding fruits such as berries and cucumber.” Try My Water Balance.
Snack yourself sharp
“Menopausal women often worry about their weight and may have cut out snacks in order to diet but if your blood sugar drops it can affect your mental agility,” says Hunter. “I recommend reducing meal sizes instead and introducing small, frequent, nutrient-dense snacks that will keep your blood sugar steady. You want to be eating every three to four hours ideally. Try dried fruit and nuts or a couple of oat cakes.”
Keep on learning
“Every time we learn something new, we are developing and strengthening brain connections which improves the brain’s resilience and functioning,” says Dr Bijlani. “Don’t stop learning just because you are older. Try anything you enjoy – learn a new language or musical instrument or do puzzles. If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Check out brain training apps such as Lumosity and Cognifit Brain Fitness.
Give the girls a call. “A lack of socialising can be associated with depression, which can contribute to memory problems, so staying connected is really important,” says Dr Bijlani. “Reach out if you’re feeling lonely. Join a book club or start a new class.”
Soothe your mind
“If your mind is chaotic or you’re anxious or depressed, it’s hard to focus,” explains Dr Bijlani. “Regularly practising mindfulness or meditation – whatever technique works for you – helps the brain learn to focus as well as reducing levels of anxiety and releasing endorphins, our feel-good hormones.” Try using mindfulness app Headspace.
Take time out
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep and energy expert at Nightingale Hospital explains: “When we sleep it restores the body mentally as well as physically – our mental filing cabinets are sorted out – and we wake up feeling sharp and focused. I recommend going to bed at around 10pm at least four nights a week. You don’t have to be sleeping, but rest and pull back from the stimulation of life. Don’t take worrying phone calls, don’t check your emails and think about what you read before you go to sleep.”
The expert message is clear: you don’t have to put up with menopause-induced brain fog. By paying attention to your diet and lifestyle and embracing new experiences, a sharp, agile mind can be yours again.
The ‘me’ in menopause
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