Menopause and Concentration: Your Guide to this Foggy Symptom

By Naomi Braun, MPH, MSW • Published 12/19/2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Tara Scott, MD

woman on her laptop reading about menopause concentration and cognitive function

Have you ever been talking with a friend and all of a sudden you forget what you were saying? Or you’re part way through a sentence, and you cannot for the life of you retrieve the next word from your brain? If the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone! One tough symptom of menopause is the impact it can have on your ability to concentrate and stay focused, otherwise known as "brain fog”. So, what is brain fog like? Why does this happen during menopause? And what can we do about it?

Understanding menopause concentration and cognitive function

Estrogen plays a very important role in protecting the brain and the nervous system. The brain is made up of networks of nerve cells (neurons). These networks help different parts of the brain “talk” to each other and work together to control things like thinking, memory, and overall brain function.

During menopause, the decline in estrogen levels can lead to changes in brain structure and function, including decreased memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. This is because estrogen has been shown to protect nerve cells in the brain that are there to protect against diseases that affect mood and overall brain function.

Estrogen also helps regulate things in the brain called neurotransmitters, which are your body’s chemical messengers. They carry messages from nerves to other nerves and muscles, helping your body function properly. Two specific neurotransmitters, called serotonin and dopamine, are essential for mood and focus. When estrogen declines, these neurotransmitters are affected.

Finally, estrogen supports blood flow to the brain by keeping blood vessels healthy and promoting good circulation. This strong blood flow ensures that enough oxygen and nutrients get to the brain to keep it functioning. As estrogen levels drop during menopause, this process is a bit less effective. Your brain is still getting the nutrients it needs, but it’s happening in a less efficient way, potentially leading to changes in overall brain function.

woman experiencing menopause brain fog uses her computer to help her remember important tasks and appointments

What is ‘brain fog’?

"Brain fog" is a term often used to describe the feeling of mental confusion, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating. While it's not a medical term, many people going through menopause can relate to this feeling. The exact reasons behind brain fog are still being studied, but changes in hormone levels, difficulty sleeping, and stress can all contribute.

Sleep troubles, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, are common during menopause. Poor sleep can have a large impact on cognitive function, as it makes it harder to remember details and makes it more challenging to pay attention.

How to improve memory and concentration

While dealing with brain fog can be frustrating, here are some tips for staying focused:

  • Prioritize sleep. Set up a sleep routine and create a healthy sleep environment — a dark room, cooler temperatures, minimized ambient noise — in order to improve the quality of your sleep. Avoid caffeine and electronics before bedtime to help keep the brain, and your thoughts, calm before pulling laying your head on the pillow.
  • Exercise regularly. Getting regular physical activity has been shown to have positive effects on the ability to stay focused and concentrate. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, can help to improve mood, and supports overall brain health.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants, found in berries, tomatoes, spinach (and dark chocolate!), and omega-3 fatty acids, found in eggs, walnuts, salmon, and tuna. These nutrients can help support brain health.
  • Do mindfulness exercises. Practice mindfulness to help manage stress and anxiety. Taking the time to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment can also help improve your concentration.
  • Train your brain. Try doing puzzles, crosswords, and memory and concentration games to help keep your mind sharp. And they’re great activities to do throughout the day.
friends walking to stay physically and mentally engaged to help keep their brain active during menopause

  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can add to feelings of fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Drinking enough water throughout the day is essential for healthy brain function.
  • Break tasks in smaller steps. When trying to tackle a complex task, breaking it into smaller, manageable steps can make it easier to focus and accomplish each component. Bonus, you can make a to-do list with these smaller tasks as a way to see progress (and get the joy of crossing many things off your to-do list!).
  • Use external aids. Tools like to-do lists, calendars, and reminders can help with forgetfulness and help you remember important tasks and appointments without using too much extra brain power.
  • Stay socially active. Focus on connecting with friends and family as a way to stay engaged both physically and mentally. Participating in social activities keeps your brain active and engaged. And it can even help to prevent general mental decline as you age.

It's important to know that the changes in your brain health are normal and often short-term. However, if these changes greatly affect daily life or cause distress, you should talk to a healthcare professional. Making lifestyle modifications, engaging in social activities, and training your brain are some of the things that you can do to lessen the ‘fog’ and improve your own situation.

Last Updated 2/21/2024

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