This article about menopause and dementia symptoms is written by Julie Hambleton B.Sc., co-founder of The Taste Archives.
It’s no secret – when you enter menopause you’re also going to be dealing with brain fog, forgetfulness, and some shifts in mood and ability to focus. These changes are perfectly normal as your body’s hormones are going through quite a large change from your pre-menopausal years.
Normally, this is no cause for concern. That is, until those signs start becoming much more severe. This was the case with Judy Prentice, who mistook early -onset dementia symptoms for menopause. Here is her story and what all women can learn from her situation.
Judy Prentice’s Story: Dementia Symptoms Mistaken for Menopause
At the age of 51, Judy Prentice found herself yet again walking out of a change room while shopping with her husband wearing her dress back to front. Over the last couple of years, the town hall clerk and mother of two found herself doing a lot of absent-minded little things: writing numbers incorrectly, misplacing things and scraping the cars on posts even though there was plenty of parking space.
At first, she chalked it up to the absent-mindedness that often comes along with the transition into menopause, and didn’t think much more of it, even her doctor didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about. (4)
By Christmas 2009, however, Judy was beginning to become concerned as her condition was getting worse. She finally confided to her husband Frank early on in the new year that she was struggling at work even with simple tasks like counting and writing. They went to her doctor who ran some basic tests for dementia symptoms, all which came back positive. She was referred to a neurologist for more tests, and the following month she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
Judy had to retire, and her husband has had to take over most of the house duties. Despite him leaving detailed instruction for things like how to use the oven and what chores can be done that day, Judy struggles, afraid to make herself anything more than a sandwich and getting halfway through a task before forgetting what she is doing. (4)
How to Differentiate Menopause from Dementia
Brain fog and mild forgetfulness are normal signs of menopause, however, they can also indicate a more serious problem and can be a sign of the very early stages of dementia. Knowing how to tell the difference is crucial for getting the proper treatments for both conditions.
The Signs of Menopause
There are several signs that most people know and associate with the start of menopause, including missed, irregular, or completely non-existent periods, hot flashes, and night sweats. (1) There are other symptoms, however, that affect your brain and cognitive ability as well as your mood, including:
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling moody, depressed, or anxious for extended periods of time
- Increased forgetfulness and misplacing things
In general, these are nothing to be concerned about and are perfectly normal as your body is going through quite a significant transition. If the mood swings, insomnia, and brain fog is beginning to have a major impact on you and your ability to function effectively, however, should trigger some alarm bells. (1)
The Signs of Early Onset Dementia
Diagnosing early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s can be difficult because it is not normally expected or considered for people under the age of 65. In reality, the Alzheimer’s Association of America estimates that anywhere from 220,000 to 640,000 Americans are affected by early onset Alzheimer’s and Dementia, though many go undiagnosed. (3)
Signs that what you are experiencing is in fact dementia and not just menopause are:
- Disruptive memory loss: Forgetting recently learned information and having to continually ask the same questions, forgetting important dates, having to rely increasingly on notes, phone reminders, and friends and family to remember things you used to remember on your own. (2)
- Difficulty planning, problem-solving, and following instructions: If you find yourself struggling to complete tasks that you used to have no problems with, especially those with numbers, that could be a red flag. Things like familiar recipes, keeping track of bills or expenses, and other common home and work tasks may take you much longer to do and with higher inaccuracy. Even things like driving somewhere you go to often or remember the rules to your favorite card game may become a struggle. (2)
- Losing track of time or place: Those suffering from various stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s may find themselves forgetting how they got somewhere, what the date or season is, and often lose track of time. Struggling to understand things that are not occurring in the immediate present is a strong sign of dementia. (2)
- Decreased visual and spatial reasoning: Problems with vision can often accompany other signs of the onset of dementia. Difficulty reading or judging distances and space are the most commonly noted, making everyday tasks such as driving a struggle. (2)
- Difficulty with words and speaking: Going beyond simple writer’s block or struggling to find the right word, people experiencing early onset dementia may have trouble joining or following conversations, stop halfway through a conversation and not known how to continue, repeat themselves, and struggle with vocabulary and the correct names for things.(2)
- Frequently misplacing things: From time to time, we all set things down only to forget where we put them. Those with dementia symptoms, however, do so quite frequently and often set down the objects in question in very unusual places, such as putting their purse in the fridge. To make matters worse, they lack the ability to retrace their steps to find what they have lost. (2)
- Changes in mood, personality, and activities: Though those with menopause can experience mood swings due to their changing hormones, those with dementia will experience much more than that: Confusion, anxiety, suspicion, depression, and increased fear or worry. They become easily upset, and will often withdraw from things that they used to love, including hobbies, sports teams, projects at work, even simply going out with family and friends. Any situation in which they are somewhere unfamiliar or out of their comfort zone will cause great amounts of fear and anxiety. (2)
As you can see, there are some pretty significant differences between the symptoms of menopause and the warning signs of dementia. Unfortunately, at the early stages, these signs can be quite subtle and misconstrued for other conditions. Thankfully, there are some tests that you can do at home to help determine whether or not your symptoms are a sign of something more severe than menopause or regular aging.
At-Home Tests for Early Onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s
If you are at all concerned that your memory loss and brain fog might be due to something more than just menopause, there are some at-home tests you can do to test for dementia symptoms first before taking a trip to your doctor. These tests help you better determine whether or not your difficulties are due to stress, age, or menopause, or if you may be experiencing early signs of dementia or Alzheimers.
There are plenty of online resources, including this memory test by MemTrax. You can also visit the Alzheimer’s Reading Room website for more tests, including the 15-minute SAGE (Self-Administered Geocognitive Examination) test, the clock draw test, and several other memory tests that will give you a good benchmark as to whether your brain fog is serious or not.
If you score poorly on these tests or are still concerned about your mental health and abilities, go see your doctor for more in-depth testing on dementia symptoms and to determine a course of action for you.
The Bottom Line
Alzheimer’s and Dementia are serious conditions that greatly affect your life and those of your friends, family, and co-workers. While there is currently no cure for either, there are things that can be done to help you manage symptoms and live a full, happy life. If you start noticing patterns and habits that are unusual for yourself, do not ignore them or leave them up to stress, aging, and menopause; get tested to be sure that it is not something more serious.
Share this article with your friends and family so that they, too, will know how to spot the differences between menopausal brain fog and early onset dementia.
- How Do I Know if I’m in Menopause? (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/understanding-menopause-symptoms#3
- Memory Loss & 10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp
- Maslow, K. (2006, June). Early Onset Dementia: A National Challenge, A Future Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/national/documents/report_earlyonset_full.pdf
- M. (2012, March 12). I thought it was the menopause – but it was dementia. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/i-thought-it-was-the-menopause—but-it-was-dementia-90705