Menopause and Forgetting Words - Your Guide | Stella
Memory & focus
11 mins

How to deal with forgetting words in menopause

byKate Williams

Forgetting your words during menopause can be incredibly frustrating, whether you’re at work or out socially. It’s annoying and can be highly embarrassing when your vocabulary simply disappears, or you end up saying something completely different to what you intended. It can make you feel less sure of yourself in front of colleagues and friends. Kate Williams explains why it’s happening and what you can do about it. 

I’ve always been pretty rubbish at remembering names. I’ve got a permanent note on my phone to remind me of the ones that just won’t stick in my head. About five years ago, I was making introductions in a meeting and found myself unable to recall the name of someone I’d worked with for several years. Worse, she was a good friend. I then failed to remember the words ‘stage’ and ‘outcome’. I just about made it to the end of the meeting but I was convinced that I’d had some kind of neurological episode. 

If you’re nodding in recognition, you’re not alone. One study suggests that a whopping 60% of those in perimenopause and menopause report changes in either thinking or memory. More research found that about one-third experienced a “clinically significant” decline in their recall ability following menopause.  

TV presenter Davina McCall has spoken about menopause-related memory problems:  “I was looking at Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen thinking, ‘I’ve just said your name three seconds ago and I can’t remember for the life of me what it is’. It was literally a blank page, and then I looked at the autocue and I couldn’t read it properly.

“Afterwards the producer asked if I was okay,” she continues. “I’d like to think I’m good at my job, I love live TV, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, I’m really sorry – I don’t know what happened tonight’. Then as the door shut behind her I couldn’t stop crying. I was hysterically crying because I thought, ‘I’m going mad’. I felt so lonely.” 

Read more on brain fog during menopause

Could your memory loss be dementia?

“That was really scary…being mid-sentence and forgetting the noun or the word,” Swedish-British television presentator, Ulrika Jonsson said when discussing menopause. “I actually took a friend of mine aside and…said, ‘I’m really worried that I might be getting early onset Alzheimer’s’.”

It’s not uncommon to feel worried when you start having trouble remembering things. It’s unsettling to struggle to express yourself and as if suddenly detached from your brain. Thankfully, it’s unlikely that dementia is behind this. While women are more prone to this condition compared to men, research indicates that a decline in memory during menopause doesn’t necessarily suggest existing dementia or a higher chance of getting it as you get older. It’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor if you are concerned.

Read more on menopause and dementia.

What kind of things might you forget?

Menopause-related memory symptoms centre on your ability to process and recall verbal information and events. This is unlike the deduction and reasoning difficulties associated with dementia.

You might lose immediate focus, or find yourself in the kitchen with no idea why you got up from the sofa. You might miss appointments, or be easily distracted from urgent tasks. You might berate yourself for constantly misplacing your purse, keys or phone – and even experience a weird sense of “time lapse”.

These symptoms might be frustrating, infuriating or disturbing – but they’re often within the bounds of ‘normal’.”

Why can menopause make you forgetful?

It’s all down to oestrogen or rather, the lack of it. Research shows that oestradiol, a form of oestrogen, directly impacts your memory and the ability to find words. You might not be surprised that women outperform men in terms of verbal memory from puberty onwards. But, women can struggle when oestrogen drops during menopause.

Low levels of oestrogen affect the brain in many different ways. During menopause, we see changes in the number of brain cells, the connections between them and the way the brain uses glucose. All of these are suspected to contribute to the memory and emotional symptoms that affect so many during menopause. But there is good news – it looks likely that the brain adapts after menopause, finding alternatives to glucose in order to maintain its functioning. Declines in grey matter also seem to be reversible, with levels in postmenopausal women matching those of men of the same age, and learning abilities returning to pre-perimenopause levels.

Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help?

Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on whether HRT can have a positive impact on memory with researchers publishing conflicting conclusions. In the absence of definitive research, HRT is not currently prescribed purely for memory loss. It can, however, help with anxiety, depression and hot flushes, all of which can affect our memory.

Tips and tricks for coping with forgetting words

It can help to have a strategy ready for when you forget a name or familiar word. If names are particularly tricky for you, write them down somewhere easy to glance at if you get stuck, such as in your phone, or notebook. 

You can also opt to style it out. My friend Jane works in customer support and says, “After a while, I ran out of excuses,” she laughs, “so now I shake my head and curse my menopause memory. People usually laugh, and we move on.”

Try talking to your manager about your menopause symptoms and memory loss if you’re not as confident as Jane and it’s worrying you at work. Explaining that menopause is simply a stage in life can be helpful for those who don’t know much about it. Remember that employers may be in breach of sex discrimination legislation if they don’t allow for the impact of menopause on your performance. 

Read more about the legal perspective on menopause and work.

Lifestyle changes can help your memory

There’s also plenty you can do to help yourself. Hot flushes can be linked to memory loss. They can be triggered by a high-sugar diet, caffeine, alcohol and smoking. There are specific diets that not only help with hot flushes but can also support your cognitive function as you age. The Mediterranean diet encourages you to focus on foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins like fish and chicken, and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. It’s inspired by the traditional eating patterns of people who live around the Mediterranean Sea and is known for its heart-healthy benefits.

Another diet with great potential is the MIND diet. This diet combines aspects of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It emphasises foods like leafy greens, berries, nuts, whole grains, lean proteins, and olive oil. These foods are thought to be particularly good for your brain health.

Here are four ways you can improve your memory, based on established research:

1. Improve your sleep

Sleep is critical for brain health. It plays a key role in storing and maintaining what you learned in the day, and can protect against Alzheimer’s. It can be hard to get the seven to eight hours of sleep recommended for good brain function during menopause. If you are struggling, try our ideas for a good sleep routine

2. Keep moving

Exercise can also improve your memory. It’s never too late to get moving! Aerobic exercise is effective and great for those who love running, cycling or swimming. If that’s not you, there’s emerging evidence that resistance training and mind-body exercise like Tai chi and yoga can lead to cognitive improvements too.

3. Give your brain a workout

Exercise is not just for bodies – your brain needs it too! Keep your brain active with puzzles and challenges, learning new skills and doing new things can help to improve cognitive function and protect against decline.  

4. Manage stress effectively

Both acute stress and chronic ongoing stress can have a negative impact on memory. Find a way to decompress that works for you. Meditation, yoga, exercise or time outside can help. Being more sociable can also improve memory, whether it’s a walk or coffee with friends, or joining a new club or choir. 

Can supplements improve your memory?

There is little research into menopause-specific memory loss and nutrition, but we do know that a balanced diet is important for good brain health.

There’s evidence that deficiencies such as low or deficient vitamin D levels can have a negative impact on your memory recall. If you aren’t getting enough through sun exposure or your diet, you can take a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for memory. These can be found in supplements or natural sources like chia or flaxseeds and oily fish.

A B12 deficiency can also cause memory loss. While it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet, there’s no evidence that boosting your intake will have positive effects.

Final word

Memory problems during perimenopause and menopause are common. You don’t need medical advice unless your memory symptoms are progressively worsening and interfere with your work performance or relationships. 

It’s helpful to be aware of the signs of the more serious memory-related conditions. Talk to your doctor if you notice yourself:

  • Repeating questions or comments
  • Forgetting how to use common objects or carry out daily activities
  • Neglecting your personal hygiene
  • Being unable to understand or follow directions
  • Getting lost in places that are very familiar to you 

Find out more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.