Memory decline — a frequent complaint of menopausal women — potentially could be lessened by hypnotic relaxation therapy, say Baylor University researchers, who already have done studies showing that such therapy eases hot flashes, improves sleep and reduces stress in menopausal women.
Their review — “Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance” — is published in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights. October has been designated World Menopause Month by the International Menopause Society.
Initial research by Baylor, funded by the National Institutes of Health, focused on hot flashes, finding that hypnotic relaxation therapy lessened them, but “along the way, we discovered there are a lot of secondary benefits, including significantly improved sleep and mood,” said Jim R. Sliwinski, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
Co-researcher Gary Elkins, Ph.D., theorizes that sleep, mood and hot flashes associated with decreased estrogen also have a bearing on memory. Their publication, which reviews previous research by other scholars, proposes a framework for how mind-body interventions may improve memory, which could prove fruitful in doing future research.
“Memory decline may not be solely about decreased estrogen,” said Elkins, director of Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory and a professor of psychology and neuroscience.
Peri- and post-menopausal women may find mind-body therapies attractive for many reasons, among them that they do not have the side effects of medications or hormone therapy, said Elkins, author of “Relief from Hot Flashes: The Natural, Drug-Free Program to Reduce Hot Flashes, Improve Sleep and Ease Stress.”
While hormone therapy can increase estrogen, it also is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease for some women, he said.
Researchers have noted that while memory decline can occur with aging in both men and women, women are more likely to report a greater number of memory problems, associating it with estrogen decline. Women also report more concerns about memory than pre-menopausal women do, according to several large-scale survey studies.
A factor that may impact memory is that women are dealing with increased responsibilities, stress or depression over such issues as caring for aging parents. In addition, their concern about memory problems may cause them to be more aware of memory lapses, Sliwinski said.
Even women who can safely be treated with estrogen do not necessarily have improved memory. “It sometimes even is associated with cognition problems,” he said.
Although there are questions about sleep’s specific role in forming and storing memories, researchers generally agree that consolidated sleep throughout a whole night is optimal for learning and memory.
Memory tests and scores over time with study participants — both pre-and post-menopausal — could help shed light on how menopause affects recollection, the Baylor researchers said.