A new study has discovered that menopause stage is a key determinant of cognition and shows that certain cognitive declines may continue into the post-menopausal period, which differs from earlier studies on this topic, according to a study published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Multiple large-scale studies have suggested that menopause is a sex-specific risk factor for cognitive dysfunction independent of aging and other menopause symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and hot flashes. However, prior research did not characterize the duration of cognitive changes taking place between premenopause and perimenopause but suggested that difficulties in memory and processing may resolve in the postmenopause period, according to the study authors.

The new study, which involved more than 440 primarily low-income women of color and women with HIV, concluded that menopause stage is a key determinant of cognition. However, clinically significant cognitive decline and cognitive impairment persist into postmenopause, affecting primarily learning and memory. Subtler declines in attention were additionally found to continue into the postmenopause period.

The research team theorized that the difference in results relative to the duration of cognitive decline could be explained by the fact that this newer study included more low-income women with multiple risk factors for cognitive dysfunction, including the presence of HIV. Previous studies have confirmed that cognitive function is compromised by an array of risk factors, including HIV, poverty, low education, substance abuse, high levels of stress, limited access to quality health care, mental health problems, and medical comorbidities.

The current study is the first known to assess changes in cognitive performance across menopause stages, specifically showing cognitive declines over time in learning, memory, and attention for premenopause to early perimenopause, and from premenopause to postmenopause, according to the authors. Many of these changes were documented to reach a clinically significant level of cognitive impairment, according to the study authors.

"This study, which included a racially diverse sample of low-income women and women with HIV, adds to existing literature on cognitive changes across the menopause transition and showed a significant cognitive decline in learning and memory that persisted into postmenopause,” said NAMS medical director Stephanie Faubion, MD, in a press release. “Additional research is needed to confirm these findings and to identify the factors responsible for individual differences in cognitive changes.”

Can menopause be blamed for increased forgetfulness and lack of attention? NAMS. https://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/press-release/cognitive-changes-during-the-menopausal-transition-1-13-21.pdf. Published January 13, 2021. Accessed January 14, 2021.