Later menopause linked with benefit to memory

Entering menopause at a later age may be associated with a small benefit to a woman’s memory years later, according to a new UK study.

healthy ageing - white haired women

Study author Dr Diana Kuh, of University College London, UK, said: “This study suggests that lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during menopause, may be associated with memory skills.”

The researchers studied 1,315 women from the UK’s Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, whose medical records had been followed since birth in March 1946.

All of the participants underwent tests of their verbal memory skills and their cognitive processing speed at the ages of 43, 53, between 60 and 64, and then at the age of 69.

The researchers collected information on age at menopause - either natural or due to removal of the ovaries - whether they took hormone replacement therapy, and other factors that could affect thinking and memory skills, such as childhood cognitive ability, amount of education, smoking and occupation.

Menopause, which is defined as the age at last menstrual cycle, started on average for the women with natural menopause at age 51 and a half.

It was found that among the 846 study participants who experienced menopause naturally, those women who underwent the transition later in life had higher verbal memory scores, remembering 0.17 additional words per year. After researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect memory, the difference was 0.09 additional words per year.

“The difference in verbal memory scores for a ten-year difference in the start of menopause was small - recalling only one additional word, but it's possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later,” Dr Kuh said. “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”