Exploring the Link Between Menopause and Alzheimer’s
Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s grandmother had two sisters and a brother. All three sisters died of Alzheimer’s. Their brother was spared. Why?
It started with an artichoke. Or rather, it started with my inability to recall the word artichoke, even though I was holding one in my hand. “What did you get for dinner?” my partner Will asked from the other room, and I said, “Salmon and… ” My brain went blank. Or rather it went from blank to asparagus, even though I knew that asparagus, while in the correct spiky vegetable ballpark, was wrong.
“Yes?” said Will.
I started to panic. Words are my stock-in-trade. They’re how I make my living. If I couldn’t come up with a simple word for the vegetable right there in my own hand, who was I? I carried the mystery object into the room where Will was working. “What is this?” I said. “I can’t remember how to say it.”
He looked alarmed. “You mean… an artichoke?” He smiled. Was this some sort of a joke?
My relief was palpable. “Oh my god, yes! Thank you!” And yet I was still disturbed. What just happened? I’d been having what I thought were all the normal issues with word recall, keys and glasses locating, and wait-why-did-I-just-go-into-this-room moments over the last few years after turning 50, but this felt different somehow, more disturbing. More urgent.
I immediately Googled “memory loss menopause,” and 13.8 million hits appeared on my screen. Was memory loss an inevitable by-product of menopause? And if so, why? I started digging. And that’s when I stumbled upon a recent op-ed in the New York Times by neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi, who is studying the link between menopause and Alzheimer’s. The question she asked herself, in her research, was a deceptively simple one: Why do twice as many women get Alzheimer’s as men? The statistics with regard to women’s longevity versus men’s cannot explain away this enormous discrepancy. Could menopause offer any answers?
So on a warm spring day, just after the artichoke incident, I biked from my home in Brooklyn to Dr. Mosconi’s office at Weill Cornell in New York City. (Exercise, we now know, is one of the key risk reducers for…