By Stacey Burling
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
After C. Neill Epperson, a psychiatrist who directs the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness, listened to many patients complain about their brains as they approached and entered menopause, she had an idea.
Women would tell her that they couldn’t juggle as much as they used to. They had to write something down instantly or the thought would disappear. They felt foggy and disorganized. Some worried that they had dementia.
The symptoms didn’t sound like dementia to Epperson, but they did sound like something else: attention deficit disorder.
She thought, “Wow, these issues are really similar to what you see in ADHD. We need to do something about this.”
She knew the women didn’t really have ADHD, a developmental disorder that starts in childhood, but she wondered if drugs for attention-deficit patients might also help distracted women.
She tried one of them, lisdexamfetamin (Vyvanse), in a small study funded by the drug’s maker, Shire. On average, the 32 patients’ scores rose by 20 points on the 120-point Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Scale after four weeks on the drug.
Lest you think that a psychostimulant might boost anyone’s performance, Epperson said the drug didn’t help everyone. “The people it helped, it really helped,” she said.
But most of the patients didn’t want to stay on the drug because insurers wouldn’t cover the cost.
Psychostimulants can increase heart rates and blood pressure, so they’re not for everyone.
Epperson discussed her study at two professional meetings last week. It has not yet been published.
She doesn’t know what percentage of women develop executive function symptoms or whether aging men get them at the same time. She studies only women.
She attributes the cognitive changes to the drop in estrogen during menopause. The hormone supports chemical signaling in the brain and promotes healthy brain cells. It is present in both male and female brains.