Age-related changes in hormone levels can have a significant impact on brain func-tion, a finding confirming the suspicions of many women.
Barbara Sherwin, James McGill Professor of Psychology, has found the loss of estrogen that starts around the time of menopause is linked to mood swings and a measurable decline in memory function. The good news is that estrogen therapy should mitigate those symptoms.
Though the link between memory loss and menopause had long been suspected, it was uncertain whether the change in brain function was a result of shifts in hormone levels or simply age.
Sherwin’s study controlled for age by studying women of an average age of 36 years who had been prescribed an estrogen-suppressing drug, leuprolide acetate depot, to treat gynecological conditions. Sherwin and her lab gave memory tests to these patients before and after their estrogen levels had been suppressed. Test scores declined considerably following the drug treatment compared to a control group.
The results indicate that working memory is a function that is protected by estrogen and suggest that women who take estrogen around the time of menopause will be somewhat protected from the decline in memory that occurs with normal aging.
Barbara Sherwin’s research is funded in part through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.