What's that Thing?

Did you ever walk into a room and forget why you were headed in that direction? This sounds familiar to you? How about words? Are you running into trouble lately trying to formulate them in your mouth? The other day, I asked my husband to bring me - I pointed - "that thing."

"What thing?" he asked.

"You know, that thing. That THING from the cabinet!" I shouted back exasperated.

I was shouting because I couldn't remember the thing's name. After all, it's a difficult word for someone like me - MUG. If you say the word "mug" enough times, it starts to sound like something Mandarin...or other-worldly maybe.

Back in the day, I didn't have trouble formulating words in my mouth. I also knew where I was going, especially once I got there.

Am I on a downward spiral soon to become mute? Perhaps, I'm just not as sharp as I used to be.

Short term memory loss is not uncommon in midlife for a variety of reasons, so women should educate themselves and find out what they can do to sharpen their minds.

What's this all about?

Many women fear that their memory lapses could be the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Understanding why we begin to lose our memory skills is the first step toward learning to compensate for our aging brains.

According to an article written by Holly L. Thacker, M.D. for Cleveland Clinic, "The first sign of Alzheimer's often is forgetting how to perform activities, such as driving home from the store, and not fumbling for words. People with Alzheimer's aren't aware enough of their condition to recognize it and tell their doctor."

Some studies have concluded that menopausal memory loss is due to fluctuating levels of estrogen. Others point to the symptoms of oncoming menopause - lack of sleep or anxiety - which in themselves can cause memory problems.

Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Brain's Creativity, Energy and Focus (Free Press, 2013), explains, "Science shows that all of us commonly experience cognitive decline as we age. Women of all ages, but especially during menopausal/perimenopausal stages, should know that memory is a very complex system and influenced by many factors, such as insufficient sleep, stress, depressed mood, information overload, and chronic multitasking, to mention a few. The mental fog that may be felt during menopause does not appear to be directly related to hormonal changes, but more to these other factors."

Fortunately, there are ways to help your brain function at a more optimal level. Chapman advises, "It is important to avoid cruising on automatic pilot. Memory is enhanced by innovative and inspired thinking. After enjoying a movie, think deeply and formulate succinct take-away messages."

Chapman reminds us that aerobic exercise can give memory capacity a boost. "Our research at the Center for BrainHealth has shown that significant memory gains emerge when individuals engaged in regular aerobic exercise for fifty minutes three times a week." Chapman also advocates a healthy diet, adequate rest, and meaningful friendships to keep the mind and body functioning well.

Women should know when it's necessary to seek help from a professional. Forgetting where you put your keys isn't uncommon. However, memory problems that leave you confused or completely disoriented can be a sign of a more serious condition.

"When forgetting regularly interferes with your performance, it may be a sign that something more concerning than benign memory glitches are taking over. Pay attention to signs of cognitive decline, such as the ability to make decisions," Chapman clarifies.

The good news: Chapman describes, "In absence of disease, declining memory is one of the easiest cognitive losses to compensate for. One sure-fire way to compensate for forgetfulness is to write down what you are trying to remember. You over-tax your cognitive resources by trying to retain what you want to remember in your mind."

Studies also show that many post-menopausal women find that their memory returns to normal.