Lately, I can’t concentrate— I’ll read the same sentence in a book three times in a row, or start a chore and forget what I was doing the moment my attention wanders. I also can’t remember anything, from where I left my keys to the name of “that actor from that movie, you know, the atomic bomb one” (for the record, I meant Cillian Murphy). My mom acts like this, but she’s 80 — I’m only 47. I thought I was way too young to be having these kinds of problems!
Dr. Rakhee Patel, MD FACOG, Board Certified OBGYN and the Chief Medical Officer of the Pinewood Family Care Co., says:
"Brain fog" is a term that a lot of women use to describe a sensation where they're not as sharp as they usually are. It's not a formal medical condition, but it is quite common during perimenopause and menopause, and it can be a bit unsettling.
Hormonal fluctuations that occur during this period may play a significant role. Research shows that higher estrogen levels are linked to better cognitive function; the decrease in estrogen that people in perimenopause experience can affect how your brain functions and processes information (hormone changes in this time period can also worsen sleep quality, which can also make you more likely to experience brain fog). It's a bit like how your body has to adjust when you go up to a high altitude; it's a different environment and sometimes there's a bit of a struggle to acclimate.
Just like other symptoms of menopause, not every woman will experience brain fog. It seems to be quite individual, varying from person to person. However, stress, lack of sleep, certain medications, and even some health conditions like depression or anxiety could possibly make a woman more prone to experiencing brain fog. But the evidence is not entirely clear and more research is needed to pin down exactly what the connections are.
What can you do about brain fog?
Firstly, I want to assure you that it's okay to seek help if brain fog is making life difficult — there’s no need to suffer or hide your symptoms. There are several strategies you and your doctor can discuss to help you navigate this.
There are a few things that generally help with brain fog. Ensuring you're getting good quality sleep is key — lack of sleep can interfere with healthy brain function. Staying physically active and maintaining a healthy diet can also help — both support your general health, and can not only improve sleep but also lessen stress (another huge factor in brain fog). If stress is an issue, stress management techniques or talking therapies might be beneficial.
Though there is no medication currently available that is designed specifically to treat brain fog, there are some medical treatments that might help some people experiencing brain fog, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might be helpful too, particularly if the brain fog is causing anxiety or stress. But remember, it's a personal journey, and you and your doctor will work together to find the best strategy for you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.