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Is brain fog real during menopause?

Deborah Hutton

4 minute read
Deborah Hutton

There are endless funny stories poking fun at brain fog during menopause, but what I want to know is – does it actually exist?

I asked Dr Sarah McKay, Oxford University-educated neuroscientist, ABC Catalyst TV presenter, author of ‘The Women’s Brain Book’, and director of The Neuroscience Academy for some clarity.

“I’ve heard clinicians say brain fog isn’t a real diagnosis, which is correct. Brain fog is a colloquial description of symptoms used to describe slow or hazy thinking, difficulty focussing, confusion, lack of concentration and forgetfulness. Unless someone is medically or scientifically trained, they’re not going to describe their symptoms as ‘similar to mild cognitive impairment’, which is the medical description,” Sarah explains.

“Brain fog differs from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a result of brain ageing. But similarities between brain fog and MCI can cause considerable angst, as many women mistakenly assume their fogginess indicates the beginning of the descent towards Alzheimer’s disease.”

Sarah acknowledges it can be difficult to tease out the specific causes of brain fog, but ovarian hormones do have a direct impact on brain function. That’s because the processes of learning, memory, and other higher order thinking tasks are governed by the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

With that in mind, I turned to Sarah’s book aptly titled ‘The Women’s Brain Book’ for information on what can we do to improve our brain function in menopause and as we age.

As Sarah points out, “The evidence from modern science and ancient wisdom is clear. How we eat, move, sleep, form relationships and find meaning is intimately connected to how our brains grow, think, feel and, ultimately, age.”

And yes, she said brain fog in menopause is real!

Credit: nib health insurance

So in a healthy nutshell, here are a few of my favourite tips to help keep brain fog at bay:

1. P.M.A.

Try to have a P.M.A (positive mental attitude). Be positive and know you have the right attitude to face any challenges your new life throws at you.

2. Embrace ageing

At the end of the day, your wrinkles mean you’ve laughed, grey hair means you cared and scars mean you’ve lived your best life.

3. Live and learn

A lot of us spend our lives planning our day and organising everyone at work and at home. We do this so often that we run on auto-pilot therefore requiring little thought. To boost your brain and clear away the cobwebs, get on with learning new skills. Take a pilates class, do the daily crossword, subscribe to an educational podcast or enrol in a class.

4. Swap sides

Your brain is an organ that improves through mental stimulation. Using your opposite hand to do simple daily tasks is a free and easy way to build new neural connections and keep your mind fit.

Using your non-dominant hand, try to regularly:

  • Write a note or shopping list
  • Brush your teeth
  • Pour yourself a drink
  • Butter a piece of bread
  • Unload the dishwasher or clean dishes
  • Wash yourself in the shower

5. Catch more Z’s

There is evidence to suggest a good night’s rest is beneficial to helping your brain regroup and reboot.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to ensure you’re getting enough good quality sleep:

  • Maintain a regular sleep cycle during the week and on weekends
  • Keep your room as cool and dark as possible
  • Avoid caffeine and strenuous exercise before bedtime
  • Shout yourself some beautiful bedding and bedclothes made of natural fibres to prevent you from overheating
  • Keep a fan in your room. It not only circulates cool air but can also provide background white noise to aid a good night’s sleep

If your night-time routine needs a complete overhaul, here are a few more tips to improve it.

Above all else, try to remember…

You’re not losing your mind, you’re just letting go of the past – and that can only be a good thing!

For more from Deborah Hutton, check out The Check Up’s dedicated section.

Deborah Hutton is a television presenter, former magazine editor, entrepreneur, author, speaker and Australian media personality. Facing 50 and the shock of being diagnosed with a serious skin cancer, Deborah spent more than a year assessing and redefining herself and realised along the way, women not only needed support but also wanted to connect and talk. As a result, she launched her digital media community ‘Balance by Deborah Hutton’ in 2011.

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