Watch The Kensington Sierra Madre’s virtual seminar on women’s brain health titled “Dementia & Menopause: What’s the Connection?”
Our special guest speakers were Susan E. Loeb-Zeitlin, MD, FACOG, an Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialist at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Stephanie Cosentino, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Neuropsychology in the Cognitive Neuroscience Division, and the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, at Columbia University Medical Center.
In America, the average age that a woman begins menopause is 51 years old.
Coincidentally, the average age for a family caregiver is 49 years old, with 66% of the caretaking duties being performed by women in the household, typically the daughter of a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The physical and emotional strain caused by menopause and caretaking through these challenging years can increase the risk of memory loss and other cognitive problems, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
In this article, we’ll highlight steps that female caretakers can take to prioritize their own health and well-being while supporting a loved one who’s dealing with their own memory loss issues.
Estrogen loss during menopause is thought to increase a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The main hormone created by the ovaries, Estrogen, is important for maintaining brain function and protecting the brain from age-related cognitive decline.
However, during menopause, the ovaries begin to produce much less estrogen, which marks the end of a women’s reproduction system and can create lasting brain changes.
Estrogen is also essential for regulating bone health and cardiovascular health, which is why women can undergo serious health changes caused by a decreased production of estrogen during menopause.
No woman can prevent menopause from occurring, but you can make lifestyle changes to ease menopause symptoms and potentially prevent the risks of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The National Library of Medicine proposes three midlife strategies to prevent cognitive impairment from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Cerebrovascular risks refer to diseases that affect blood flow and blood vessels in the brain, such as strokes, aneurysms, and brain hemorrhages.
Having a stroke doubles the risk of dementia, with 30% of stroke patients developing cognitive dysfunction within three years.
Therefore, older women should eliminate cigarette smoking, lower their blood pressure, lower their cholesterol, and manage their diet to prevent diabetes, all of which significantly increase cerebrovascular risks.
The brain’s cognitive reserve is the brain’s ability to maintain cognition and function even during times of stress, aging, disease, or injury.
Research has proposed that cognitive reserve is linked to connections of brain cells (neurons) throughout the brain.
Generally, increasing mental stimulation by working, playing games, or engaging in leisurely activities can help build up the brain’s cognitive reserve to maintain better function throughout the aging process.
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In one study, cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with better cognitive function up to 25 years later in life.
Additionally, aerobic exercise can also treat Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms by potentially removing excess amyloid plaques in the brain that cause dementia symptoms.
Exploring hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a way to treat or prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an emerging treatment for women undergoing menopause to improve their brain health and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by supplementing their bodies with estrogen.
More research is necessary to fully understand the effects of hormone replacement therapy on women’s brains, however, the results are promising.
In one study, HRT users were shown to increase volumes in specific parts of their brains, and others have stated HRT can help improve “brain fog” caused by menopause symptoms.
As of right now, more research is necessary to understand if HRT can be used to fully prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia in women.
Genetics is only one factor that can influence a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through menopause.
Often, more important factors such as lifestyle choices — diet, exercise, and reducing smoking, can have a bigger influence on a woman’s risk of developing memory impairment.
However, there is a genetic mutation called the APOE gene that can increase a woman’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The APOE gene can be inherited from a mother or father, and having two copies of this gene can significantly increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 100%.
How to break the cycle of memory loss: 7 steps to prevent cognitive decline, burnout, and memory impairment
It can be easy to neglect your own health while caring for a loved one who needs more assistance than you. But over time, caretaking can lead to emotional burnout, physical fatigue, and depression, which can increase your risk of developing cognitive impairment.
Follow these lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing dementia and improve your menopause symptoms:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet that avoids processed foods
- Stay socially active with friends and family
- Quit smoking immediately
- Sleep 7-9 hours consistently every night and maintain good sleep hygiene
- Manage stress to lower blood pressure to prevent the risk of stroke
- Keep your brain active by playing games, reading, and engaging in life enrichment classes and events
At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we’re dedicated to providing resources, support, and educational events and webinars to support you and your loved ones.
Be sure to check out our caregivers’ support resources such as Kensington Konnect, a hub for caregivers, our blog page, and our frequently updated event calendar for our residents and their family members.
The Kensington Sierra Madre is an enhanced assisted living and memory care community located in Sierra Madre, California.
Our enhanced license enables us to provide a higher continuum of care than you’ll find at traditional assisted living communities, including two memory care neighborhoods dedicated to Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
At The Kensington, we Promise to love and care for your loved one as we do our own.
Are you the daughter or spouse of a loved one dealing with memory impairment caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?
Please contact us to learn more about our upcoming classes, and caregiver support resources, and to schedule a tour of our community.