Watch Kensington Senior Living’s educational webinar titled “Dementia & Menopause: What’s the Connection?” which was held on Feb. 28th, from 3:00 – 4:00 PM PST.
Our guest hosts were experts Stephanie Cosentino, Ph.D. from Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Susan E. Loeb-Zeitlin, MD, FACOG from the Weill Cornell Medical Center.
In this free virtual event, experts discussed the link between menopause, and estrogen, and how it relates to developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Did you know that 66% of caregivers are women? This discussion will focus on how caregivers can take steps to protect their own brain health as they manage caregiving for their loved one.
How menopause increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life that marks the end of the reproduction cycle. The average onset age for menopause is 51 years old, and during this time, estrogen and progesterone production can drop by 50%.
Recent studies have shown that a decrease in estrogen is linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Additionally, the average age for a caregiver in America is 49 years old, which overlaps with the median onset age for menopause of 51. And because 66% of caregivers are adult women, many caregivers are simultaneously going through menopause while providing unpaid care for a loved one.
The stress of which can compound the negative health aspects of menopause.
The role of estrogen in menopause and Alzheimer’s
Research scientists have linked the loss of estrogen during menopause to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Estrogen is an essential hormone for women’s brain health that helps promote neurogenesis (new brain cell growth), reduces stress and inflammation, and maintains synaptic plasticity.
When women go through menopause, they experience physical and emotional changes, which can include sleep disturbances, mood changes, and increased stress. All of these can further increase the odds of developing Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment.
However, not all women who experience menopause will develop Alzheimer’s, and although there is a genetic link, many of these factors are influenced by lifestyle changes.
Is Alzheimer’s risk increased by genetics?
While there is a link between inherited Alzheimer’s genes, most doctors typically place more importance on correcting lifestyle changes, such as improving diet, exercise, and mental health.
However, there is one gene in particular—the apolipoprotein E (APOE4) gene, that carries a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
People can inherit one APOE4 gene from their mother and father, and if they inherit the gene from both parents, their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases by up to 100%.
If you’re concerned about whether or not you have the APOE4 gene, ask your doctor if you can take a blood test that’s sent to the laboratory for further analysis.
It’s important to know that having this gene does not automatically guarantee you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease, and lifestyle choices often have a bigger impact on developing memory impairment.
The benefits of hormone replacement therapy during menopause
Emerging medical research is underway testing the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on menopausal women to increase their estrogen levels.
Similar to how men take HRT for improving testosterone levels, women can opt to receive HRT to help improve their brain and body function during times when decreased hormone levels can cause negative cognition and side effects, such as hot flashes, brain fog, and mood swings.
Results so far have been mixed with the studies, although in one study HRT has been shown to improve cognition and improve brain volume for at-risk women with the APOE4 gene.
5 ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce Alzheimer’s and dementia risk during menopause
Although inheriting the APOE4 gene increases a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, it’s not the only factor. Many doctors agree that correcting lifestyle changes that increase the risk of developing dementia is more important.
The following are some steps you can take now to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia during menopause.
1. Stay physically active to boost brain health
Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 30%.
Aim for exercising 30 minutes a day, which can include jogging, walking, swimming, or cycling every day.
2. Manage stress to lower blood pressure
Increased stress causes elevated blood pressure, which over time can lead to strokes or aneurysms. A stroke can double the chance of developing dementia, which is why lowering blood pressure is important.
Practice mindfulness meditation or try deep breathing exercises when you’re feeling stressed to quickly lower blood pressure and create calm within your body.
3. Maintain a healthy weight during menopause
Women typically gain about 5-8% of their body weight during menopause, which could be anywhere from 10-15 extra pounds.
Weight gain and obesity are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, including insulin resistance and extra inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight is attainable during menopause and is important for overall health.
4. Engage in challenging and stimulating mental activities
Scientists discuss having a “cognitive reserve” which is the concept that brains that have more experiences and mental stimulation tend to perform better and age better against the effects of dementia.
A strong cognitive reserve can buffer against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. To build your cognitive reserve, regularly engage in mentally and physically stimulating activities such as exercising, reading, learning, and playing games.
5. Build and maintain strong social connections
Engaging and building friendships reduces stress, boosts well-being, and improves cognitive function.
In one study, 60-year-olds who visited friends daily had a 12% decrease in risk of developing dementia.
To find more connections as a caregiver, look for local caregiver support groups that can create new and lasting social connections to let you express your thoughts and feelings in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.
Connecting with The Kensington Redondo Beach: finding support for menopausal caregivers
The Kensington Redondo Beach is an assisted living and memory care community that Promises to love and care for your loved one as we do our own.
We’re dedicated to providing resources, support, and educational events for caregivers and their families. Please be sure to check out Kensington Konnect, a hub for caregivers that includes recipes, book recommendations, and general support for caregivers.
Check out our blog page and our updated event calendar to see upcoming educational events and webinars.
At The Kensington Redondo Beach, we specialize in dedicated memory care support for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Our two memory care neighborhoods – Haven and Connections – cater to early, middle, and late stage memory loss.
Are you the daughter or wife of a loved one dealing with memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia?
Please contact us today to schedule a tour of our community or learn more about our upcoming classes on caregiver health.