Many women would gladly delay the onset of menopause just to put off the hot flashes and night sweats that come with it.
Now, a study has found that a later menopause may have another benefit – boosting the memory.
The average woman goes through the menopause at the age of 51, but every year of delay appears to help the brain.
In a test that involved remembering 45 words, women who had a later menopause remembered an extra word compared to those who went through it a decade earlier. The team at University College London who conducted the research believe more years of oestrogen may benefit memory.
The hormone, which almost disappears when a woman’s childbearing years are over, is thought to protect the brain from cognitive decline. It means a later menopause is better for the brain than losing the oestrogen at an earlier age, and could even ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
The study’s lead author, Dr Diana Kuh, said: ‘The difference in verbal memory scores for a ten-year difference in the start of menopause was small but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.
‘This study suggests that lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during menopause, may be associated with memory skills’.
The researchers tested the memories of 1,315 British women on four occasions between the ages of 43 and 69. This involved participants being shown a list of 15 commonly used words, one every second, and then asking them to write down as many as they could remember. The test was repeated three times.
The results – published in the journal Neurology – show that the 846 women who had a natural menopause, rather than one caused by surgery, did differently on the tests depending on their age when their periods stopped.
For every year later a woman went through the menopause, she remembered an average of 0.09 extra words. This works out to almost one extra word out of 45 for every decade a woman’s menopause is delayed.
While oestrogen may be the reason behind this, the study did not find that women who had HRT to replace the hormone had better memories.
Dr Aoife Kiely, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said the research might help to explain why more women than men have the condition, although it did not look at whether the women were diagnosed with dementia.