Foggy thinking and incidents of forgetfulness are common occurrences for many middle-aged women. Although significant memory loss in middle age may be a sign of early stage dementia, chronic disease, medications, brain trauma and lifestyle choices can be contributing factors. If memory loss comes on suddenly or gets progressively worse, it is important to consult with your medical care provider for a complete health evaluation.
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The relationship between stress and cognitive function is well known, and preliminary evidence suggests stress early in life may affect memory function in midlife. In a study conducted at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine and reported in Science Daily, researchers found rats exposed to a stressful environment early in life showed measurable memory deficits beginning in middle age. While it is likely that cognitive function is related to both genetic and environmental factors, physical or emotionally stressful situations-those in which the person has no control over the outcome-affects the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. Although a stress free environment may be difficult to maintain, women who employ stress reduction techniques on a regular basis may increase their ability to focus and sharpen their memory skills.
The decline of hormones in a woman’s body is considered to be a natural part of the aging process. However, in the past century, the life expectancy of people in the Western world has nearly doubled, and women can expect to live for decades beyond menopause. Because estrogen protects memory, some doctors continue to recommend synthetic hormone replacement therapies to alleviate symptoms associated with cognitive impairment in older women. Other doctors disagree, and insist natural hormonal replacement is the only acceptable treatment option. According to Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, founding president of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Foundation International in Arizona, mild cognitive impairment is not uncommon in middle-aged women. Khalsa recommends an integrative approach that includes a healthy diet, meditation, supplementation and a natural hormone replacement therapy.
Although occasional, moderate use of alcohol may not be harmful, studies consistently show abuse of legal or illicit drugs compromise the nervous system and alter the chemical makeup of the brain. Women metabolize alcohol more slowly than men, and with age they become more susceptible to its effects. Deficiencies of the B vitamins are common with chronic alcohol abuse, and vitamins B12, folate and B6 are particularly important for normal brain function. According to Northwestern Health Sciences University, participants in a memory study with normal levels of vitamin B12 performed better than those with lower levels. Vitamin B12 is an essential component of communication between nerves cells , and among other things a deficiency is linked to mental confusion and memory loss, says the Mother Nature website.