What is brain fog?

If you're struggling to think clearly, chances are those mid-life hormones might be to blame.

By Woman's Day team
Whether you're perimenopausal, in full-blown menopause or just a woman who's curious about what's to come, chances are you're aware of some changes you experience as you age.
And as you reach menopause, you should know that brain fog – the cognitive symptoms associated with reaching menopausal age – is real!
GP Dr Ginni Mansberg explains that there are some things you can do to help:
Brain fog is a very common side-effect of perimenopause and menopause. (Image: Getty)

What do perimenopause and menopause have to do with the brain?

"Naturally, lots of women who see me are experiencing brain fog and are terrified about what this means for their brains," says Dr Mansberg.
"Is this the beginnings of dementia?" Thankfully, Alzheimer's disease is exceptionally rare at the time most women go through menopause and perimenopause, so it's unlikely to be anything more than brain fog at this stage of life.
"I like to say to my patients that if you lose your keys, you should consider it normal. But if you look at your keys and can't work out what to do with them, it's time to worry."
"The good news is that for the very, very large majority of women, this has nothing to do with Alzheimer's disease," says Professor Pauline Maki from the University of Illinois.
Having said that, see a doctor if you have brain fog plus a parent who has or had early onset dementia, which is defined as onset before age 60 (this could indicate a genetic link).
Or if other people, such as close friends, colleagues and family members, are worried about your brain. If you feel that your brain fog is so bad that you can't work, again a proper assessment should be done.
An exercise routine is one way that brain fog can be minimised. (Image: Getty)

How to battle brain fog

  • Go easy on yourself at this time. Yes, menopause brain really is a thing, and it's much more common than you probably think – women can't expect cognitive perfection. We all make mistakes. Our brains can't be expected to be efficient all the time.
  • Don't just put up with hot flushes. We are not talking about feeling a bit glowy once a day. If your hot flushes make you uncomfortable and especially if they are affecting your sleep, get them sorted. Studies have found that the worse your hot flushes, the worse you perform on memory tests. Ditto your sleep.
  • If you are experiencing depression, it's time to get it sorted. Perimenopause is the highest risk time for women to experience a mood disorder. Depression not only interferes with your sleep, but your cognitive performance as well.
  • Control the things you can. When things are a bit foggy upstairs, a healthy diet and exercise routine will be your best friends!
  • Use compensatory cognitive strategies/external memory aids. These can be super-simple strategies to compensate for your brain being a little fuzzy.
Caroline Gurvich, deputy director of Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, says such strategies have been well studied for brain diseases, from schizophrenia to traumatic brain injury.
They're less studied for menopause, but Caroline says her patients find them really helpful. One suggestion is to create a permanent spot where you always leave your keys.
"Use as much as you can to make your life as easy as possible," Professor Gurvich recommends.
Brain fog can occur during menopause. (Image: Getty)

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