Women have long claimed they remember things better and longer than males and scientists found they do outperform men. But as they enter the menopause they suffer from increased forgetfulness and "brain fog".
Epidemiological estimates suggest that approximately 75 percent of older adults report memory-related problems in the face of a rapidly increasing population of adults aged 65 and older.
Professor Dr Jill Goldstein of Harvard Medical School said: "Women report increased forgetfulness and ''brain fog'' during the menopausal transition. Given that women are disproportionately at risk for memory impairment and dementia in contrast to men, improving our understanding of sex differences in cognitive ageing is paramount.
Less was known about memory changes in women during the menopausal transition compared with age-matched men, or sex differences in specific memory domains early in the ageing process.
A study was conducted to investigate changes in memory function that occur in early midlife as a function of sex, sex steroid hormones, and reproductive status. It involved 212 men and women aged 45 to 55 and it assessed episodic memory, executive function, semantic processing, and estimated verbal intelligence through cognitive testing.
Associative memory and episodic verbal memory were assessed using a Face-Name Associative Memory Exam and Selective Reminding Test.
In addition to comparing sex differences, the study also found that pre-menopausal and peri-menopausal women outperformed those who were post-menopausal in a number of key memory areas.
Professor Goldstein said: "In this population-based study, we identified specific changes in memory function that occur during early midlife as a function of sex and menopause status in women. Women performed significantly better than age-matched men across all memory measures. This held true until post-menopause, when the memory performance advantage among women attenuated, in particular for the retrieval of previously recalled information.
Declines in estradiol levels in postmenopausal women were specifically associated with lower rates of initial learning and retrieval of previously recalled information, while memory storage and consolidation were maintained.
"In the future, we hope to understand which memory changes experienced by women in early midlife are associated with healthy ageing and which memory deficits may be initial indicators of preclinical Alzheimer's Disease and eventual memory decline later in life."