Have you ever been in a room full of people, presenting something important and completely forgotten your words? What about when you’re talking to someone you have known for years, and you suddenly forget their name? Or the time when you walk into a room and have no recollection of what you came in there for? Brain fog, this the generic term we give to these moments when we just can’t remember those words, names or why we walked into that room.
“Two-thirds of women suffer with brain fog during perimenopause and menopause.”
Brain fog refers to general fogginess in thinking, but it might also include poor memory, forgetfulness, words on the tip of your tongue or using the wrong words without even realising that you have done so. It also refers to short-term memory lapses, leaving us feeling like, perhaps, we are showing early signs of dementia.
During pregnancy and perimenopause memory lapses, lack of memory recall and brain fog are common. We call it baby brain when we’re pregnant, and post-partum. During perimenopause and menopause, women suffering with brain fog often worry that it is the signs of early onset dementia. This feeling alone leads to stress, anxiety and unnecessary worry for one of the most common symptoms of perimenopause! Just to put it into perspective, two-thirds of women suffer with brain fog during perimenopause and menopause.
Did you know, twice as many women suffer with dementia, post menopause, than men? This is a staggering statistic and, quite frankly, a frightening one at that. It’s not entirely known why women are more likely to suffer with dementia than men and, the research is evolving. It is believed plaque build-up on the brain is associated with a decrease in oestrogen levels, this correlates with oestrogen levels naturally declining as women age.
Only recently has any research been conducted on women’s brains during these significant female hormonal changes. The work of neuroscientist, educator and author, Dr Lisa Mosconi, has been game changing for understanding what happens to a woman’s brain during the most consequential hormonal changes in her life; puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause. Her work has discovered that the neuroplasticity in a woman’s brain changes during these fundamental hormonal cycles. So, in fact, the changes in our hormones has a significant impact on our brain.
A lack of cognitive ability is really scary. Even if we know why it’s happening, things like a hangover (not me 👀), lack of sleep, or hormonal changes – whatever is going on, it is still anxiety inducing to think that our brain health is in decline.
When it comes to peri and menopausal working women, the most common symptoms reported which impact on their ability to perform their job is: poor concentration, tiredness, sleep problems, poor focus, poor memory. It could be inconsistencies of their own sharpness, sometimes it’s a name on the tip of the tongue or a word they’re thinking of but can’t remember. The impact this has on a woman’s sense of self, and their confidence is immense. It’s no wonder 25% of women consider giving up work as a result of perimenopause and menopause symptoms – and 1 million women in the UK have already quit their jobs due to perimenopause and menopausal symptoms!
Tips if you are suffering or if you want to support someone who is suffering with brain fog
- Keep hydrated, our brains are about 75% water so keep it hydrated. If you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated so aim to drink at least ½ a pint of water for every 15kg of bodyweight. So, if you’re 60kg you need at least 2 pints a day (this is a minimum). Start your day with a large glass of water & keep a glass or bottle on the go all day.
- Following a Mediterranean Diet has been proven to improve brain health as well as help with symptoms of depression (another common symptom of perimenopause)
- Cutting down on alcohol consumption can help, or at least, having a few days off drinking per week
- Exercise for concentration – anything that is good for our physical health is only going to benefit our brain health. The more strength conditioning and weight bearing exercise you can get, the better (aim for 3-4 sessions per week!)
- Social connection – this helps with thinking skills and keeps your brain engaged
- Reducing stress – mindfulness, meditation, having fun and playfulness
- Using your brain for something that challenges you – e.g. a puzzle, chess, wordle, etc anything that can keep your brain cognitively active – not necessarily brain training games but it’s got to be something you enjoy, that’s challenging & that satisfies you
- Think of ways to manage all that you have on your mental load; use a diary or calendar to plan your day. Really use the diary, make check lists and create practical small manageable parts of any task.
- If you’re in a work situation – learn some phrases to give yourself space to respond to someone if you are having a brain fog moment / short term memory loss. ‘Can I come back to you on that?’
It is up to all of us to raise awareness and spread the word about brain fog and cognition during peri/menopause and it’s up to each of us to change the narrative. Although brain fog is common, it’s very worrying if you’re suddenly questioning your ability to complete everyday tasks. If you yourself suffer with brain fog or if you have been reading this thinking, ‘ah that sounds like…’ please, please, show some compassion. Know that this is a very normal symptom of perimenopause but don’t ignore it either and go and speak with your GP or healthcare professional.