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Memory Functioning Among Midlife Women: Observations From the Seattle Midlife Women's Health Study.

Woods, Nancy Fugate PhD, RN, FAAN; Mitchell, Ellen Sullivan RN, PhD; Adams, Cynthia PhD
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Objective: As the number of midlife women increases, there is an increased interest in women's experiences of the perimenopause. Because of the evidence linking estrogen with cholinergic and serotonergic activity in the brain and with central nervous system development of dendritic arborization, and mixed evidence of estrogen use with incidence of Alzheimer's disease, the effects of the perimenopause on memory functioning are of interest. The purpose of these analyses, part of the Seattle Midlife Women's Health Study, was to describe changes in women's perceived memory functioning according to their perimenopausal group, age, perceived stress, health status, and mood.

Design: Memory functioning was assessed with the Memory Functioning Questionnaire as part of a questionnaire mailed to study participants annually. Perimenopausal group was assessed using Mitchell's rating schema.

Results: Age was unrelated to any of the Memory Functioning Questionnaire indicators except for retrospective memory; younger women reported more memory problems than older women. Perimenopausal groups were unrelated to most memory functioning ratings with few exceptions. Memory functioning ratings of current memory compared with the past were worse for women who were in early and middle transition and for those who were using hormone therapy than for those who were in late transition and postmenopause. Women reported more current memory problems compared with 10 and 20 years ago and at age 18. Health ratings were negatively correlated with memory functioning ratings, and depressed mood positively correlated with nearly every indicator of memory functioning (frequency of memory problems, ratings of current memory, past memory, and memory change). Greater perceived stress levels were associated with more memory problems.

Conclusions: Perceived memory functioning seems more closely related to perceived health, depressed mood, and perceived stress than to perimenopausal stage or age. Further work is needed to determine whether these ratings provided by the Seattle cohort will change over time as women age and as they make the transition to menopause and beyond. (Menopause 2000;7:257-265. (C) 2000, The North American Menopause Society.)

(C)2000The North American Menopause Society