New UK research has found that starting menopause later may be associated with a slight boost to a woman’s memory.

Carried out by researchers at University College London, the study looked at 1,315 women who had been followed since birth in March 1946, and collected data on the age the women started menopause, whether it was natural or due to the removal of the ovaries. All of the women also had their verbal memory skills and their cognitive processing speed tested at ages 43, 53, between 60 and 64, and at age 69.

The team also recorded whether the women took hormone replacement therapy, and gathered information on childhood cognitive ability, amount of education, smoking and occupation, which could affect memory skills.

For the verbal memory test, the women were asked to recall a 15-item list three times. At age 43, participants recalled an average of 25.8 words out of 45. By age 69, they recalled an average of 23.3 words.

Among the 846 women who experienced menopause naturally, the team found that those who had entered menopause later had higher verbal memory scores, remembering 0.17 additional words per year. After the researchers had adjusted for other factors that could affect memory, the difference was 0.09 additional words per year.

However, for the 313 women who entered menopause due to surgery, the team found no relationship between age at the time of surgery and memory scores after researchers adjusted for the other factors that could affect memory.

There was also no relationship between age at menopause and test scores on how fast the women could process information.

Commenting on the findings, study author Diana Kuh said, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small – recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later. More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”

The association between the age the women started menopause and memory scores was not affected by use of hormone therapy.

“This study suggests that lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during menopause, may be associated with memory skills,” commented Kuh. “This difference may be due to the estrogen receptor role, which regulates the gene that codes brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps to solidify memory formation and storage.”

The results can be found published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. – AFP Relaxnews