Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit
Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit News
How do hormones affect your memory?
December 4, 2006
Hollywood for years has shown menopausal women as two-dimensional characters with extreme hot flashes and mood swings. Menopause, however, is a no laughing matter for millions of American women. Postmenopausal women can experience difficulty sleeping; they are at an increased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis; and some studies have shown that postmenopausal women have some decreased cognitive function.
The University of Vermont is conducting medical trials that look at the relationship between decreasing estrogen levels and cognitive function and memory. Women's ovaries stop producing estrogen after menopause. Studies are under way to see if postmenopausal women will have increased cognitive function if they receive Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Julie Dumas, a post-doctoral associate in the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit at UVM, notes "that many postmenopausal women will report some change in memory." Recent studies have suggested that estrogen supports the central cholinergic system, which is involved in memory and cognition. Researchers are interested in learning what role estrogen plays in cognitive function and memory and why women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as men.
"Our previous research suggests that estrogen may enhance brain function," said Dr. Paul Newhouse, the director of the Clinical Research Unit.
There are three studies focusing on the effects of sex hormones on cognitive function and memory in postmenopausal women. In one trial, women are given estrogen, in another estrogen and progesterone, and in the third trial, women receive tamoxifen. These studies are looking at whether estrogen can help preserve memory in normal aging and to decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
According to Dumas, many Vermont women decide to participate in these trials "for their mothers, sisters, or other female relatives, many have parents with Alzheimer's and their goal is to help us out to learn what happens to memory with aging."
As with any medical decision, women should discuss the possible risks and benefits of any treatment, including HRT, with their doctor.
Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, a private, nonprofit United Way organization. For more information on services for seniors call the Senior HelpLine at (800) 642-5119.