Question: Since I have become menopausal, I have become very forgetful. Although I have no trouble remembering events that happened a long time ago, I do have difficulty recalling such simple things as the name of a person to whom I was just introduced. Am I showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease?
Answer: Loss of memory for names is extremely common in both sexes after the age of forty and is a normal phenomenon of aging. It is not unusual that you would begin to notice these memory lapses after menopause, as I discuss in the next question, estrogen plays a role in brain function, as the decline in estrogen could affect memory. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease go far beyond that of forgetting names or even important dates. Alzheimer’s is characterized b a myriad of other problems including the inability to communicate, sudden mood changes, confusion, irrational behavior, and the inability to cope with daily living. Unless you are experiencing some of these other symptoms, I would not worry about your memory loss. There are some things you can do to help improve your memory function. Many women find that taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause helps restore memory and even improves the ability to concentrate. I do not take estrogen myself, but I rely on “mind games” to help remember names. Specifically, I try to make an association with the name that will stick in my mind. For example, I was recently introduced to a woman named Rita who, like the actress Rita Hayworth had red hair. In my mental file, I stored “red hair” with “Rita Hayworth”. The next time I met this woman, I was able to retrieve her name. This technique works well with many people. I also find it helpful to use the name of this person in conversation immediately after being introduced; this also helps to reinforce the name in your mind.
Marianne J. Legato, MD, Ph. D. (hon. c.), FACP is an internationally renowned academic, physician, author, lecturer, and pioneer in the field of gender-specific medicine. She is a Professor Emerita of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Dr. Legato is also the Director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine, which she founded in 2006 as a continuation of her work with The Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. She received an honorary PhD from the University of Panama in 2015 for her work on the differences between men and women.
At its core, gender-specific medicine is the science of how normal human biology differs between men and women and how the diagnosis and treatment of disease differs as a function of gender. Dr. Legato’s discoveries and those of her colleagues have led to a personalization of medicine that assists doctors worldwide in understanding the difference in normal function of men and women and in their sex-specific experiences of the same diseases.
She began her work in gender-specific medicine by authoring the first book on women and heart disease, The Female Heart: The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease, which won the Blakeslee Award of the American Heart Association in 1992. Because of this research, the cardiovascular community began to include women in clinical trials affirming the fact that the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment of the same disease can be significantly different between the sexes. Convinced that the sex-specific differences in coronary artery disease were not unique, Dr. Legato began a wide-ranging survey of all medical specialties and in 2004, published the first textbook on gender-specific medicine, The Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine. The second edition appeared in 2010 and the third edition, dedicated to explaining how gender impacts biomedical investigation in the genomic era, won the PROSE Award in Clinical Medicine from the Association of American Publishers in 2018. A fourth edition is forthcoming.
She also founded the first scientific journals publishing new studies in the field, The Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine, and a newer version, Gender Medicine, both listed in the Index Medicus of the National Library of Medicine. She has founded a third peer-reviewed, open access journal, Gender and the Genome, which focuses on the impact of biological sex on technology and its effects on human life.
Dr. Legato is the author of multiple works, including: What Women Need to Know (Simon & Schuster, 1997), Eve’s Rib (Harmony Books, 2002), Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Rodale, 2005), Why Men Die First (Palgrave, 2008), The International Society for Gender Medicine: History and Highlights (Academic Press, 2017), and most recently, The Plasticity of Sex (Academic Press, 2020). Her books have been translated into 28 languages to date.
As an internationally respected authority on gender medicine, Dr. Legato has chaired symposia and made keynote addresses to world congresses in gender-specific medicine in Berlin, Israel, Italy, Japan, Panama, South Korea, Stockholm, and Vienna. In collaboration with the Menarini Foundation, she is co-chairing a symposium on epigenetics, Sex, Gender and Epigenetics: From Molecule to Bedside, to be held in Spring 2021 in Italy. She maintains one of the only gender-specific private practice in New York City, and she has earned recognition as one of the “Top Doctors in New York.”