A quick summary:
Heka is delighted to partner with Stella, the menopause support app, to discuss brain fog, its link to menopause and how to ease your symptoms. Don’t forget - World Menopause Day is on the 18th of October!
10 ways to clear your brain fog during menopause
Forgetting your colleague's name more frequently than feels comfortable? Nervous about speaking up in a meeting in case you have to search the infinite blankness for a word? If your train of thought is often headed to an unknown destination with you as an anxious passenger, it could be down to brain fog and menopause.
Problems with memory and focus are being highlighted for this year’s World Menopause Day on 18 October and we’ve shared what you can do to help these symptoms if they are causing difficulties at work.
Why do menopause symptoms happen?
Your menopause experience is unique to you with the number, combination, severity and duration of symptoms differing from person to person. As your ovaries age, they produce less of the hormone oestrogen which then causes menopause symptoms.
Over the years leading up to menopause (known as perimenopause), you may notice sleep disturbances, mood swings, anxious feelings, sweats, difficulty concentrating and more. Symptoms may arrive suddenly or slowly creep up on you and just when you have a handle on one symptom, another can appear.
Menopause itself is when you haven’t had periods for more than a year and aren’t using hormonal contraception. If your ovaries are removed or damaged, you can also experience early or induced menopause. It is a complex stage of life and the Stella app provides the information you can trust to help you learn how to manage your symptoms.
How do you know you have brain fog?
You might be dealing with brain-related symptoms if you notice:
- Memory issues
- Concentration problems
- Inability to focus
- Difficulty problem-solving
- Feeling confused
It can feel like your brain is working against you when you lose your thread in the middle of a conversation and can’t recall what you were even talking about. If you are the sort of person who prides themselves on being able to juggle home and work easily, it can come as a huge shock and leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
It is normal to worry that something else is going on to cause all of these problems, especially given that they can have such a big impact on your life. While underlying medical causes are not very common at the time of menopause, it is still worth checking in with your doctor. They will be able to assess your symptoms properly to ensure that there is no medical concern other than menopause.
How common are memory and focus symptoms?
Brain fog is common and experienced by two-thirds of people during menopause. Scientists do not fully understand why it happens but it’s thought that oestrogen plays a role in cognitive function and the hippocampus part of the brain, which involves learning and memory. If this sounds frightening, take heart as research shows it often improves postmenopause for many people.
Top 10 things that can help
- Keep a diary
Journaling can help you track your symptoms and identify triggers and patterns. Having a list can also make you feel in control of your day.
- Change your lifestyle
This won’t come as a huge surprise but what you eat, drink and do has such a big impact on how you feel now and in later life. Changing to healthier habits is challenging, especially if you have a busy job and home life. That’s where we can help.
Download Stella, a menopause support app that helps your specific menopause symptoms with a personalised plan and real-life coaches to motivate you to make those changes. It introduces healthier habits, step-by-step, to fit around your life. It has menopause-friendly exercises, recipes and plenty of useful expert articles. There’s also a supportive community with online events and classes. It’s a great way to start adding lifestyle advice to your daily routine. It’s also available on Heka, here!
- Get a decent sleep
Other symptoms can make brain fog worse, such as anxiety, low mood and poor sleep. Menopause can be a sleep thief, making it hard to drift off or causing you to wake during the night or earlier than you’d like.
Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake time can help, together with keeping all screens out of your bedroom (even your mobile). Try to wind down an hour before bed, relaxing with a book, meditation or gentle music. Remember that alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can interfere with your sleep.
- Eat and drink well
Research shows that eating 1-2 portions of leafy greens and including berries in your diet can help your brain health. Balance your blood sugar by eating more fibre, lean protein, healthy fats and reducing processed foods, such as cakes, crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks. Drink plenty of fluid as your brain is super sensitive to dehydration, which can cause fatigue.
- Get walking and your heart pumping
Being more active can increase hormones that process information and promotes the survival and health of new brain cells. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline by 30% if you are younger than 65, or 20% if you are over 65.
Strength training has also been shown to both increase the size of your hippocampus and improve brain health and cognitive function.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. Aim to do some strength training on at least two days each week.
- Manage stress levels
You might be a mindfulness sceptic, but science shows that meditation can help your sleep and stress levels which can affect how you function during the day. The Stella app includes guided meditations and soundscapes to help you relax.
Feeling isolated can affect your brain and overall health. Scientists are not quite sure why but there seems to be a link between social interaction helping stress levels and keeping you mentally active. Make time to see friends or join a new class or group to find like-minded people.
- Learn something new
Puzzles, word games and learning a new language or instrument can help keep your brain active.
- Help your memory
If you keep going to the shops and coming home with half of what you wanted, use an acronym, e.g. the word STAY for spaghetti, tomatoes, apples and yoghurt. If you are stressed searching for lost items, set a specific place to put your keys, purse and bag. If you struggle to recall important information, try repeating what you need to remember to yourself or someone else. This helps your brain store it effectively.
- Talk to your doctor
Check there aren’t any underlying causes for your symptoms and if they can recommend any treatments.
While HRT is highly effective for many symptoms of menopause, current research about its effect on brain fog and other cognitive symptoms is mixed and seems to show little benefit. HRT is therefore currently not started as a treatment for brain fog alone, but you may find it useful if you are struggling with other symptoms, especially if these are impacting on your concentration. Your doctor will be able to guide you on the best treatment for you.