Many women consider hormone therapy following menopause out of a desire to alleviate menopausal symptoms or to try and acquire some of the benefits theorized to come from the treatments such as reduced osteoporosis risk.
For postmenopausal women who take estrogen hoping it will improve their memory, however, some new results are saying they may be wasting their time. While there are numerous ways women can try to improve memory and thinking skills as they age, hormone therapy is not one of them.
Past studies have suggested that hormone therapy after menopause could prevent the decline of cognitive skills, other studies on animals have suggested the timing of the hormone therapy needs to be taken into account for benefit, and there is also evidence that prolonged use of hormone therapy raised the risk of dementia in women. This latest study, which covered roughly 570 women between ages 41 and 84, is an attempt at a long-term clinical trial to try and get more definitive answers.
The women were divided into an early menopause (within six years of last period) and a late menopause (at least 10 years since last period) groups and were then further split into a placebo and estradiol (type of estrogen) group. Over the five-year run of the study, the women had their verbal memory and thinking skills tested at the start of the trial, at the 2.5 year mark, and at the end of the full five years.
Although the women showed improvement when compared to their past scores, the overall results were consistent regardless of whether they were receiving hormone therapy or not. Scores were also the same regardless of whether the women were experiencing hot flashes or if they had a hysterectomy. No detrimental effects were observed, but no positive ones were seen either.
Up until around 2002, hormone therapy was highly advocated for women after menopause. Traditional reasons include improving memory, bone health, or strengthening cardiac function. However, much research has been done since and many of the rationales for widespread estrogen use after menopause seem to be faltering. Now the evidence is showing that there are cardiac risks to long term hormone therapy, estrogen may be inferior to other methods of preserving bone health, and this recent study says that memory and cognition simply aren’t affected at all. Science and medicine is a constant process of refinement and this study is just one more tool as recommendations are continually evaluated and adjusted.
Goldman, B., “Hormone therapy for brain performance: No effect, whether started early or late,” Stanford Medicine web site, July 18, 2016; http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/07/hormone-therapy-for-brain-performance-no-effect.html, last accessed July 20, 2016.