OCT 30, 2023 4:46 PM PDT

How Menopause Reshapes Episodic Recall

WRITTEN BY: Amielle Moreno

The slow erosion of memory is a disturbing experience that often accompanies aging. As women transition into menopause, many experience a range of physiological and psychological changes, including memory issues or "brain fog." These memory issues are caused by significant alterations in the brain's structure, metabolism, and connectivity. We're only starting to understand how older women adapt and continue to learn after such a radical restructuring.

Problems with episodic memory are frequently noted by those going through the menopause transition. Episodic memory lets us craft remembered experiences by linking people and events. Building off of a growing foundation of basic research, a new study was designed to grasp how a loss of hormones affects this complex type of memory.

Conducted by Crestol et al. at McGill University in Canada, the study whose findings were just published in the Journal of Neuroscience challenged the episodic memory of pre- and post-menopausal women while measuring brain activity.

The study participants were grouped as pre- or post-menopausal and underwent fMRI scans while viewing a computer screen. Pictures of novel faces popped up at various spots on the monitor. As brain scanning continued, participants were tested on their ability to tell the difference between new and old faces and remember where on the screen the face had been shown. This allowed researchers to gather insight into how the brain stores and retrieves episodic memories. Data analysis teased apart the relationship between the participant's functional activity, task accuracy, age, and menopausal status.

While previous studies discounted the effect of age, Crestol et al. found that the combined influence of the participant's menopausal status and age had the most significant impact on episodic memory and the brain regions involved (occipitotemporal, parahippocampal, and inferior parietal areas). Additionally, it seemed only pre-menopausal women utilized additional regions (such as the lateral PFC, angular gyrus, and midline cortical areas) during encoding and recall.

These findings offer valuable insights into how the brain adapts and changes during the turbulent menopausal transition. Evidence suggests that with menopause and age, women change how they form and recall episodic memories. The authors suggest this shift "may reflect compensation for neural inefficiencies." In other words, after years of enjoying the memory enhancement of estrogen, the brain beyond menopause must learn to do without.

This study advanced the understanding of how menopausal status and age influence the neural underpinnings of memory. It highlighted the divergence in brain regions utilized by pre- and post-menopausal women during spatial context memory tasks. Further research in this area holds significant promise in crafting therapies to address memory issues linked to both hormones and age.

Lead Author Lecture:

Sources: Scientific Reports, Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics, Journal of Neuroscience

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Amielle Moreno earned her doctorate in neuroscience from Emory University and has dedicated her career to science communication, news coverage, and academic writing/editing. She is a published researcher who has branched out to author articles for various science websites. She recently published an original research article detailing her findings on how sensory areas of the brain respond to social sound. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her spinning the latest neuroscience news into comedy gold, hosting her podcast "Miss Behavior Journal Club." This fortnightly humorous podcast features the latest in behavioral research. Her goal in life is to defend and discover scientific truths.
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