How menopause changes the brain and 3 things women should know to protect against dementia

How menopause changes the brain and 3 things women should know to protect against dementia


Several studies have found that up to 40 per cent of dementia cases could be prevented, said Dr Jessica Caldwell, director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas. And a few lifestyle changes in midlife, including quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, sleeping better and remaining mentally and socially active, aid in prevention.

But for women in menopause, experts say that three things in particular are likely to have the most impact by addressing both the short-term symptoms as well as the long-term risk of dementia.

1. Hormone therapy, timed right

For decades, researchers were concerned that the hormone therapy used to treat menopause symptoms was associated with an increased risk of developing dementia in older women. But recent studies, including one published in October that reviewed the findings of over 50 studies, look more closely at the timing of the therapy and suggest a more nuanced picture: Hormone therapy that was started around the time when menopausal symptoms began was associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Other studies have found that hormone therapy had no effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s risk, Dr Maki said, but these treatments are effective at addressing hot flashes and night sweats as well as improving quality of life, all of which are “important determinants of brain health,” she said.

2. Consistent exercise

Physical inactivity presents a greater risk for neurodegenerative diseases in women than in men, Dr Caldwell said. “We know that physical inactivity is a risk factor for dementia. And women throughout their lives, on average, are twice as likely to be physically inactive than men,” she said.

A 2018 study that followed almost 200 middle-aged women for 44 years found that the greater their fitness level at the start of the study, the lower their risk of developing dementia later in life. And Dr Mosconi found that brain scans of physically active middle-aged women had fewer Alzheimer’s biomarkers compared to their sedentary counterparts.