Emma Freud, the broadcaster and writer, feared she had dementia after the menopause left her unable to remember the word ‘stairs’.
Freud, 58, was so worried by her memory loss that she went to her GP and asked to be tested for Alzheimer’s. In fact, memory problems are a common but lesser known symptom of the menopause.
Speaking about her experience, Freud said: “I couldn’t remember words. I would say things like, ‘Can you go up the… the up… down… thing… the stairs. Go up the stairs.
“And because it was so humiliating to me, I found myself not speaking rather than going through this ridiculous charades thing of trying to communicate what I wanted to communicate.
“And so I became lesser, I became smaller and quieter and littler because it was humiliating to myself that I had no idea how to do words out of my own mouth. All I’ve ever done my entire life is do words out of my own mouth, it’s my job.”
Freud went to her GP earlier this year. Speaking to The Shift podcast, she recalled: “I went in and I said, ‘I think you should test me for Alzheimer’s.
“And she said, ‘Are you menopausal?’ And I went, ‘Yeah,’ and she went, ‘Well, it’s that.’”
Freud, who is married to the screenwriter Richard Curtis and is the executive producer of Comic Relief, said she initially rejected the diagnosis. She began going through the menopause four years ago but the memory issue was a recent development.
“I went, ‘No, it can’t be that because it’s really serious.’ But it is that, because that’s one of the main symptoms [of menopause]. I said, ‘Look, I’m 58, I’m quite bright, I read loads… to do with things like this, you can’t tell me that this is menopause. How can I have got to this stage in my life and not known that, not had any idea?”
Being told the cause of her memory loss was a relief, she said. “It’s so much less awful when you’re not thinking, ‘Old people’s home for me, I’m on my way.’”
Dr Louise Newson, menopause specialist and author of Menopause, a manual for women, said “memory fog” was a common symptom.
“People think the menopause is all about hot flushes and sweats, but there are many other symptoms.
“The hormones oestrogen and testosterone are important for memory and brain function. When the levels reduce during menopause and perimenopause, our brains don’t work in the same way. It’s like trying to run a car without the right type of petrol,” Dr Newson said.
“Sometimes a woman will think, ‘What’s that yellow thing I had for lunch?’ and you can’t remember the word ‘banana’. Lots of women who experience this think they have dementia.”
Dr Newson said some women who visit her clinic have struggled with memory loss to the extent that they have given up work, but HRT can help. “If low hormones are causing your symptoms, then that can be improved,” she said.