During postmenopause, women face greater risks of developing loss of nerve function, also known as neurodegenerative disorders. Two of the most distressing forms of loss of nerve function; Alzheimerís and Parkinsonís diseases are also the most common for this age group.
At the International Menopause Society 13th World Congress on Menopause, American researcher Dr. Victor Henderson of Stanford University presented a discussion to learn about the possible links between nerve disorders and aging.
Interestingly, Parkinsonís disease affects greater numbers of men compared to women, while more women than men will develop Alzheimerís disease. The reasons as to why remain unclear, pointing to the need to continuing research into this area.
The National Institute of Health defines Parkinsonís disease as brain disorder where the nerves no longer control brain function. This further impacts the bodyís ability to walk, move, or have normal muscle control. Parkinsonís patients tend to suffer from unrestrained and unpredictable bodily movements, and often deal with bouts of shaking.
Alzheimerís disease is also a disorder of the brain. But in this case, the lack of nerve function affects memory and daily cognitive processes. Alzheimerís is just one form of dementia, which is an umbrella term for various nerve disorders that impact oneís capabilities of judging, reasoning, communicating, and remembering. Moreover, behavior and mood are affected.
Doctors are looking for the possible connection between decreasing estrogen levels during menopause and later life nerve disorders. Estrogen performs several functions in the brain and this may provide clues about women and dementia. Some neurotransmitters in the nervous system aid in brain and muscle functions. Without sufficient estrogen levels, researchers believe this explains why more women will suffer from Alzheimerís in their later years.
For additional reasons that are not fully understood, surgical menopause or hysterectomy is linked to higher rates of both Parkinsonís and Alzheimerís. Perhaps this is due to the sudden and sharp switch that puts a womanís body into immediate menopause. In women who undergo natural menopause, the age at which they experience the transition does not appear to have any relation to Alzheimerís disease.
Can hormone replacement therapy help?
This is another difficult area that requires more research as early results indicate that menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is not considered a successful option for Parkinsonís disease. There simply are not enough studies available. In the case of Alzheimerís, there are suggestions that hormone replacement therapy introduced in women who are in late menopause, after age 65, may actually be at increased risk of dementia. Also unclear are whether initial small scale studies point that beginning HRT earlier in menopause may help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimerís later on.
The International Menopause Society does not recommend hormone therapy for the prevention of Alzheimerís disease and recognizes the urgent need for further research in this area. (Sturdee, Pines, et al., Climacteric, 2011).
The key to understanding the link between HRT and nerve disorders may depend on identifying the earliest possible time to administer treatment, and do so for a short time span to obtain the maximum positive benefits for menopause patients. As doctors learn more about aging, the next few decades may provide some much needed answers to knowing how to prevent or lessen the occurrences of nerve disorders such as Alzheimerís disease and Parkinsonís disease.
ďNeurodegenerative disorders after menopause: Parkinsonís disease and Alzheimerís diseaseĒ Henderson, Victor (US) Ė Stanford University as presented at the IMS 13th World Congress on Menopause, Rome 2011.
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