Menopausal women have long complained of hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats and memory lapses. Now new research finds evidence that gives credence to complaints of "foggy brains," regularly associated with menopause symptoms.

The study, published in the journal Menopause, concludes that the memory problems experienced by women in their 40s and 50s as they approach and go through menopause are undeniable and that they appear to be the most acute during the early period of post-menopause.

“Women going through menopausal transition have long complained of cognitive difficulties such as keeping track of information and struggling with mental tasks that would have otherwise been routine,” said Miriam Weber, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. “This study suggests that these problems not only exist but become most evident in women in the first year following their final menstrual period.”

The study followed 117 women as they completed a variety of tests examining their ability to learn and retain new information, manipulate information and sustain their attention over a period of time. In addition, the women were surveyed on their menopause symptoms like difficulty sleeping, hot flashes and depression. Researchers also looked at hormone levels in their blood.

The researchers found that women in the early stage of post-menopause -- defined as the first year after which a woman experienced her last menstrual period -- performed worse on measures of verbal learning, verbal memory and fine motor skill than women in other stages of menopause, and that these problems were not related to symptoms such as sleep difficulties and depression.

“These findings suggest that cognitive declines through [menopause] are independent processes rather than a consequence of sleep disruption or depression,” said Weber. “While absolute hormone levels could not be linked with cognitive function, it is possible that the fluctuations that occur during this time could play a role in the memory problems that many women experience.”

The process of learning new information, holding on to it and employing it are functions associated with regions of the brain known as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, she noted. These parts of the brain are rich with estrogen receptors.

“By identifying how these memory problems progress and when women are most vulnerable, we now understand the window of opportunity during which interventions -– be those therapeutic or lifestyle changes -– may be beneficial,” said Weber. “But the most important thing that women need to be reassured of is that these problems, while frustrating, are normal and, in all likelihood, temporary.”

Weber told Huff/Post50 that although her study didn't address the issue of whether memory problems were temporary or permanent, data from other studies suggests that memory does return to normal in menopausal women.

A small study presented in 2011 at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience suggested that the brains of women who experience menopause-related memory loss may actually work harder to keep up with mental tasks, the Los Angeles Times reported. That study involved 22 healthy women (average age: 57) who were all post-menopausal.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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  • Exercise

    <a href="http://skincarebyroxy.blogspot.com/2010/08/menopause-and-treatment.html">"Exercise is absolutely critical,"</a> says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. Exercise can be a powerful sleep aid, combating the sleep disturbances many women complain about. It has been shown to improve the whole gamut of menopause symptoms from hot flashes to mood swings. She says not to just focus on aerobic exercise, but also try strength training and relaxation techniques, such as <a href="http://body.aol.com/fitness/yoga" target="_hplink">yoga</a>.

  • Flaxseed

    "Flaxseed falls in the same camp as soy for the phytoestrogens," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. One study by the Mayo Clinic found the incidence of hot flashes was reduced as much as 50 percent by consuming flaxseed. It is also thought to be very promising because, along with phytoestrogens, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can aid in mood stabilization. According to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/flaxseed" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a>, an online health content provider, when compared to hormone replacement therapy, 40 grams of flaxseed was reported to be equally as effective in reducing hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood disturbances.

  • Black Cohosh

    Two German studies have shown black cohosh to be effective in reducing hot flashes, according to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/black-cohosh" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a> One study in particular showed 80 percent of women saw a decrease in hot flashes while using black cohosh. However, no long-term studies have been done and there have been reports of side-effects including upset stomach and low blood pressure, caution the experts at <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>.

  • Natural Progesterone

    This over-the-counter cure uses progesterone or progesterone-like compounds as the active ingredient. "Natural progesterone is a hormone and it works," says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson,</a> obstetrician and gynecologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "Skin creams that contain extracts of Mexican wild yams have been widely promoted for natural menopause relief for years," says <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/over-the-counter-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>. However, because of variation among products and the individual nature of skin's responsiveness, this method is not recommended by the <a href="http://www.menopause.org/" target="_hplink">North American Menopause Society</a>, says Harvard. There's no safety data on this hormone, Dr. Richardson cautions. Learn more about the risks and benefits <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/over-the-counter-products" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • Red Clover

    Red clover is often used to reduce vaginal dryness and decrease hot flashes. The effectiveness of red clover is thought to be due to a plant-chemical, isoflavones, which has an estrogen-like effect in the body. However, according to <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>, research results have been disappointing. Two studies published in the journal 'Menopause' found that women fared no better with red clover than a placebo for both hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Learn more about red clover <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/treating-menopausal-symptoms/herbal-products" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Fish isn't just delicious; it contains a valuable ingredient that may help stabilize your mood swings too -- <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/omega-3-fatty-acids" target="_hplink">omega-3 fatty acids</a>. There have been some good studies to attest that omega-3 can help improve mood, says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> There's also growing research that omega-3 fatty acids help fight <a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/heart-disease" target="_hplink">heart disease</a>. The best way to add this key ingredient to your diet is by eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and trout.

  • Acupuncture

    You wouldn't necessarily think that sticking needles in your body would be a helpful way to cure menopause symptoms, but when combined with other treatments, it can be helpful. Some controlled studies have shown some effectiveness in some woman for hot flashes, says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> According to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/acupuncture" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M.</a>, "both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan" for many illnesses, including menopausal symptoms.

  • Vitamin E

    There has been a study, which showed a slight effect in decreasing hot flashes for women using vitamin E, says Dr. <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Marcie Richardson.</a> Along with reducing hot flashes vitamin E may carry with it extra benefits, such as fending off <a href="http://body.aol.com/conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration/topic-overview" target="_hplink">macular degeneration</a>, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the aging of cells and tissues according to <a href="http://body.aol.com/alternative-medicine/vitamin-e" target="_hplink">A.D.A.M</a>.

  • Cutting Down On Alcohol

    Who hasn't felt the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, such as trouble sleeping or feeling flushed? This goes double for women during menopause. The thing about alcohol is: women metabolize it worse than men and we metabolize it worse as we age, says <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/specialist/marcie-richardson/index.aspx">Dr. Marcie Richardson.</a> According to <a href="http://body.aol.com/menopause/learn-about-it/menopause-and-healthy-living/alcohol" target="_hplink">Harvard Medical School</a>, alcohol can act as a trigger for hot flashes. And if that wasn't enough to ward you off the bottle, studies show that consuming alcohol regularly ups your risk for other conditions like<a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/breast-cancer" target="_hplink"> breast cancer</a> and <a href="http://body.aol.com/condition-center/stroke" target="_hplink">stroke</a>.

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