Symptoms of menopause could be mistaken for dementia – expert advice

Over half of women don't realise this menopause symptom

The menopause is a natural stage in life that typically affects women and people who have a uterus between the ages of 45 and 55.

It occurs when hormone levels in the body lower to a point where periods stop.

However, it can also happen as a result of some surgeries such as a hysterectomy, as well as due to a genetic reason or cancer treatments.

While some of the symptoms of the menopause are well known – including the dreaded hot flushes – others are less so.

Two experts spoke exclusively with about how some signs of the menopause could be similar to those of dementia.

READ MORE The best foods for losing weight during menopause

Jules Knight, consultant admiral nurse for Young Onset Dementia, at Dementia UK, explained: “For some women experiencing menopause or perimenopause – the time leading up to menopause where hormone levels begin to fluctuate and then drop – it can be challenging to differentiate whether symptoms are a result of hormonal changes or a sign of dementia.”

“Brain fog” – the name for feeling less mentally sharp, could appear similar to some of the memory issues faced by people with dementia.

Jules continued: “Brain fog, caused by hormonal changes, is a very common symptom of menopause.

“Women may also experience issues with concentration, word-finding, memory, multitasking, and low mood including anxiety.

“These symptoms can affect every aspect of daily life and home – some people have to take time off work due to their symptoms; others reduce their hours or even decide to resign because of the impact on their work.”

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How to tell them apart

Dementia is more common among people over the age of 65. If someone under the age of 65 has dementia it is known as young onset dementia.

Jules advised that dementia will typically cause other noticeable symptoms before memory problems.

“While people living with young onset dementia may also experience these symptoms, memory loss is not usually the first symptom to occur,” she said.

“There are more likely to be changes in vision and spatial awareness and language problems.

“Family members, friends, and work colleagues may notice these changes first, often before the person themselves.”

Michelle Swer, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology, added that brain fog should not be cause for “alarm”.

She said: “Memory and concentration challenges, often referred to as ‘brain fog’ (e.g., struggling with finding the right word, misplacing something or finding it more difficult to concentrate at work), are recognised symptoms as women enter the perimenopause and menopause.

“This is part of the ageing process and should not alarm women that they are signs of dementia.”

However, she said: “The more worrying signs of dementia are memory loss affecting daily activities, inability to remember time or place, leaving something and finding it in unusual places, difficulty remembering words in speaking or writing, changes in mood leading to distress when out in unfamiliar circumstances and gradual withdrawal from social activities.

“These issues can sometimes prompt concerns among women who may worry that they are exhibiting early signs of dementia, a condition characterised by memory loss, confusion, and difficulties in speech and comprehension.”

She added: “Memory loss experienced during menopause frequently accompanies a constellation of other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, urinary issues, vaginal dryness, general discomfort, headaches, fatigue, and alterations in menstrual cycles.”

Jules recommended seeking medical help if you are unsure about your symptoms.

“It can be challenging to tell whether symptoms are being caused by perimenopause/menopause, young onset dementia, or both, so it is important to see a GP if you have concerns,” she said.

“They will be able to rule out other medical conditions that share similar symptoms or refer you for further assessment.”

You can also visit for information and to access Dementia UK’s national helpline and clinics.

Other symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause include:

  • Changes to your periods
  • Hot flushes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches and migraines that are worse than usual
  • Muscle aches and joint pains
  • Changed body shape and weight gain
  • Skin changes including dry and itchy skin
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

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