Emma Freud said she thought she had Alzheimer's because of menopause

Emma Freud, 58, feared she had Alzheimer’s when menopause caused ‘humiliating’ brain fog which left her struggling to communicate with her family when she forgot basic words like ‘stairs’

  • Emma Freud, 58, has spoken about unexpected side-effects of her menopause
  • Said feared she had Alzheimer’s when brain fog left her struggling with memory  
  • Said felt ‘humiliated’ as she fought to remember basic words like ‘stairs’ 

Emma Freud has revealed she went to a doctor for a dementia test after menopause left her unable to remember basic words. 

The 58-year-old broadcaster, who lives in London, went through the menopause four years ago but only recently began to suffer from brain fog which became so bad she struggled to communicate with her family.

She appeared on The Shift podcast where she told Sam Baker she feared the ‘humiliating’ brain fog she experienced during menopause was actually due to Alzheimer’s. 

Emma, who has four children with long term partner and comic writer Richard Curtis, revealed: ‘I couldn’t remember words. 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.’

Writer Emma Freud, 58, from Suffolk, said a ‘brain fog’ caused by menopause left her fearing she might be suffering from Alzheimer’s (pictured in London in June 2019)

Discussing her memory problems on the podcast, Emma said she genuinely believed she was heading to an ‘old people’s home’ when she went to see her doctor earlier this summer.

Recalling a conversation with her local GP, she explained: ‘I went in and said, “I think you should test me for Alzheimer’s”.

‘And she said “Are you menopausal?” and I went “Yeah” and she said “Well it’s that”. ‘

Oxford-educated Emma, who is one of the main people behind Comic Relief, said she initially rejected the diagnosis because she assumed she would have known that memory loss is associated with the menopause.

Freud, whose partner is Love Actually director Richard Curtis, said her whole life revolved around words (Couple pictured in 2018)

She said: ‘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.

‘And I said “Look, I’m 58, I’m quite bright, I read loads of s***, I listen and know about stuff to do with things like this, you can’t tell me that this is menopause”.’

She added: ‘How can I have got to this stage in my life and not known that, not had any idea?’ 

The writer said she could not believe that the temporary memory loss that had left her struggling for words was cause by menopause (pictured in 2019 in London)

She called her memory loss ‘humiliating’, adding: ‘All I’ever done my entire life is do words out of my own mouth, it’s my job.’

Freud said that after being told it was menopausal symptom rather than dementia she has found the situation much easier to deal with.

She said: ‘It’s so much less awful when you know what it is. It’s so much less awful when you’re not thinking “Old people’s home for me, I’m on my way”.’

Does the menopause cause memory loss? 

Dr Gail Greendale led a study of almost 2,500 women in 2009 and concluded that levels of female hormones are the likely cause of memory difficulties just before the menopause begins – a stage known as perimenopausal.

She said: ‘Sixty per cent of women state that they have memory problems during the menopause transition.

‘But the effect of perimenopause on learning seems to be temporary.

‘Our study found that the amount of learning improved back to pre-menopausal levels during the postmenopausal stage.’

The average age of the menopause in Britain is 50, when periods stop and many women develop symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and depression.

At this age a woman’s supply of eggs has run out and dwindling oestrogen levels are linked to heart and bone problems.

Dr Greendale’s study tested the verbal memory, working memory and processing speed of 2,362 women before, during and after their transition through menopause.

The study found that repeated testing improved the ability of women to process information during the various stages.

But the improvements during the late perimenopausal stage were only up to 30 per cent as large as tests carried out at an earlier point in the transition.

Then after the menopause the scores began to recover.

Dr Greendale, of the University of California, said the findings suggest that during the early and late perimenopause women do not learn as well as they do during other stages of their lives.

The study also showed that taking oestrogen or progesterone hormones – used in Hormone Replacement Therapy – before menopause helped verbal memory and processing speed.

However, when taken after menopause women showed no improvement in processing or memory scores compared with postmenopausal women not taking HRT.

Dr Greendale said: ‘Our results suggest that the critical period for oestrogen or progersterone’s benefits on the brain may be prior to menopause, but the findings should be interpreted with caution.’

Dr John Stevenson, an HRT expert at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, said: ‘ Difficulties with memory are very common among women around the time of the menopause.

‘When women discover it’s probably a symptom of the menopause, they are usually very relieved as they feared they might be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

‘The study’s suggestion that women spontaneously recover is encouraging, but unfortunately some women report to their doctors they have ongoing problems.’ 


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