Sophie Wessex health: ‘What has just happened to me?’ – Countess, 57, on memory loss

Sophie Wessex supporting ‘Menopause Workplace Pledge'

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In a repeat of the documentary Edward & Sophie: The Reluctant Royals, showing on Channel 5 tonight (Saturday, February 5), the pair are seen going out about their duties, especially Sophie who is one of the Queen’s closest confidantes. At the end of last year, the Countess was joined by Wellbeing of Women’s Chair Professor Dame Lesley Regan to mark the royal patronage of the organisation. It was at an online event that Sophie spoke plainly about the symptoms menopause has had on her personally, and the “tragic” impact it can have on women in the workplace more generally.

The menopause refers to the time that a woman or anyone with female reproductive organs, stops having periods. This means they are no longer able to get pregnant naturally.

Although a natural part of ageing, for some, this process can be difficult due to the variety of symptoms that can occur as a result.

According to the NHS, most women enter the menopause around the average age of 51, but as oestrogen levels decline, it can occur anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55.

In some cases, around one in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.

Talking to Professor Regan about her views on menopause the Countess said: “Really, we should be celebrating the fact that we don’t have to have periods anymore.

“It should be a liberation, but it feels like it’s a shackle. Because it’s been described as something that’s incredibly negative.

“And, one, yes it’s an admittance of the fact that we’re getting a bit older; we’re not as young as we were before. We’re not being, to use the word, ‘productive’.”

Most women will experience some symptoms of menopause, but the effect that they have on the individual will differ, with some individuals suffering so severely that they cannot go about their daily lives.

Common menopause symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low mood or anxiety
  • Reduced sex drive (libido)
  • Problems with memory and concentration.

These symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop, and last for as long as four years afterwards, with some women explaining they have gone on for even longer than this.

Sophie spoke plainly about her own trouble with memory loss in particular, and the difficulties this causes when she is attending public events.

“You suddenly can’t remember what on earth it was you were talking about,” she quipped. “Try being on an engagement when that happens. Your words just go.

“And you’re standing there going, ‘Hang on, I thought I was a reasonably intelligent person’. What has just happened to me?”

The Countess added: “It’s like someone has just gone and taken your brain out for however long before they pop it back in again, and you try and pick up the pieces and carry on.”

Author of The Women’s Brain Book Dr Sarah McKay explains that memory loss and brain fog are very common experiences for women going through the menopause transition.

She explained that through her research, some women with brain fog worry that they are suffering from early-onset dementia, as they share many similar symptoms. But she goes on to say that brain fog is temporary and typically disappears after the transition is over, it is not an early sign of dementia.

“Brain fog” is an umbrella term used to describe problems with memory or concentration. Symptoms may include:

  • Slow or fuzzy thinking
  • Problems finding the ‘right’ word or remembering names
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness.

Luckily however, there are things that women who are suffering with brain fog, memory loss and other menopause symptoms that can help to relieve symptoms.

The most common treatments include hormone replacement therapy (HRT), vaginal oestrogen creams or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
However, as HRT is not widely recommended for memory loss or brain fog due to the lack of evidence, other lifestyle changes and regular medical check-ups might have more of a positive effect. Specific lifestyle changes to try include:

  • Exercising more
  • Good quality sleep
  • Exercising your mind
  • Following a healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing alcohol intake.

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