Let’s talk. Just us girls, OK? Guys, we’ll get back to you in a moment.

In my years as a baseball mom, soccer mom (short-lived, thank goodness), PTA volunteer and community member, I’ve had a few opportunities to sit around with women in my age group, let’s say in the 30 – 50 age range, who start to open up about topics that are particular to our suburban, family and career-centered lives. Two conversations stand out for me. One was about forgetting things, and the other was about “What drugs I’m on.”

Let me tell you, us 40ish-year-old women, we are a forgetful lot. Or just absent-minded and distracted. Or sleep-deprived. And perhaps it’s not just us; my teenage son recently put the milk in the cupboard where the glasses belong rather than in the fridge (something I remember doing as a kid too!). However, it seems to get particularly bad when you’re a female in this age group, or, if you’ve just had a kid (mom-brain; if you are a new mother or are married to one, you know what I mean).

My memory is certainly not what it was when I was in my 20s, although, my worst memory flub happened was when I was 29 and pregnant with my first child. I completely forgot about a luncheon appointment and left someone sitting at a restaurant! But lately, I’ve been forgetting words mid-sentence. I think about the name of a person or place, but when I go to talk about it, I’ve already forgotten it and I can’t complete the sentence. I’ll switch the order of words, and I’ll substitute one word for another, and the substitution is not always a good one! The scary thing is that many times I don’t realize I’ve switched or substituted the word until I see the person I’m talking to looking at me strangely. And my spelling is the pits. I now reverse letters in words and this is something that I have never done before. Perhaps I’m just getting lazy…Thank goodness for spell checker.

I also do all the usual things that many other women (and men!) do, such as worrying that I haven’t turned off the stove after I’ve left the house. I am really bad at remembering that I’ve left something cooking on the stove, until my husband smells the smoke and reminds me (did I mention I have no sense of smell?). Now I set timers…Thank God above (and my husband who is always on alert) that I haven’t yet burned the house down.

The funny thing is, that if you have a conversation with a bunch of other women who in the same age group, as I did, you will find out that most have the same symptoms. And some women will tell you stories that will make you feel as if you aren’t losing your mind after all. The story that made me feel better was from a woman who locked her keys in the car while it was still running. Fortunately her kids weren’t in the car too. Whew. I haven’t done that yet! And my sister, who left the water in the upstairs bathtub running and forgot about it. The water leaked into the downstairs… nuff said.

The other conversation that stands out in my mind is: “And what pills are YOU taking?” This one was a real eye-opener for me. Somehow I feel like I am breaking some sort of Suburban Mom Code of Conduct by breaking the silence surrounding this topic, but it has to be said: just about every mom you meet is probably on some sort of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. I once sat around with five or so other moms, waiting for our kids to finish up their activity. I’m pretty closed-mouthed about whatever meds I happen to be taking, but not so the ladies at this table. Somehow we got on the topic of depression and one mom started talking about the medications she’s taking, and recommended such-and-such pill, combined with something else, and if that didn’t work, try this other little blue pill or whatever it was. Another chimed in that she tried that but it didn’t work, so now she’s on xyz. To which, another replied that she’d had bad side-effects from that one, so did anyone have any recommendations? And of course, someone did, because they were on something that was working great, so why not try it? I kept silent; no way I was sharing what I was on, although truth be told I don’t think I was at the time. But I was astonished that every woman at that table was depressed or anxious, or both, and on medications for it. Every single one.

Now that I’ve made it my life’s mission to break down the stigma attached to dementia, I’ve become the go-to person for family and friends who are concerned about their parents or about themselves. I love being able to let people know a bit about dementia, because even though I have SO much to learn about dementia myself, most everyone else out there knows nothing. And that’s just wrong.

As such, a friend of mine recently talked to me about how she is having trouble remembering words and how she can’t finish sentences as a result. She’s getting worried. A lightbulb went off in my head and I put two and two together; my first question to her was: What medications are you taking?

There are many many reasons as to why a woman in her 40s might be experiencing this sort of memory loss. Stress, hormones, child birth, distraction, too busy, too much on her mind, lack of sleep, poor diet and more. But it occurred to me, right then and there, that perhaps it’s the meds that are contributing to her memory lapses. I know that when I take sleeping pills for prolonged periods of time (like every night for two weeks, for example) or the longer I take anti-anxiety medication, the worse my memory gets. Given the propensity for women my age to be on antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or sleeping pills, and at the same time, becoming more and more scatter-brained, could there be a correlation? I’m no doctor; I simply pull together information and make hypotheses.

Next time you get a new prescription, rather than throwing out the information about the list of side effects, read it. You may be surprised. I almost guarantee that it will list memory loss, light-headedness or some other form of cognitive side effect.

If you can’t wait, then take a look at the following two links: http://helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_medication_drugs_treatment.htm

and

http://depression.about.com/b/2003/11/25/forum-a-subtle-side-effects-of-antidepressants.htm

At this last link you will read a number of posts by women complaining of memory loss associated with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

Just like anyone else who walks out of the house to drive the car, yet leaves the keys hanging by the door, I often wonder if I am a candidate for full-blown dementia of some sort, particularly since my mother had it. However, I recently read a list of memory loss challenges put together by a fellow who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Here was a list of how memory loss exhibited itself in this particular person. I read the first few items and I must say, they seemed pretty common to most people’s experiences of memory loss. Forgot the pot on the stove. Forgot an appointment. Am forgetting words. But his list went on, and on, and on, and on. And on. I was on page 5 when I had to stop and attend to something else, and I’m still not finished reading his list. He made me realize that what I am experiencing is not dementia and shouldn’t be confused with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He also reinforced the respect and awe that I have for people who have dementia and how they manage to live their lives to the fullest given their memory disabilities.

However.

If you are having any sort of memory loss whatsoever that is inconveniencing you, is affecting your life, is a change from what you’ve been experiencing previously, is concerning you in any way, I encourage you — no — command you — to go see a doctor. There can be many reasons for memory loss, and perhaps it means a switch in medication or some sort of therapy to help you deal with the issues for which you are on meds in the first place. Or perhaps you need to eat better or just get more sleep, or reduce the stress in your life. Here is a web page that lists common causes for memory loss, the majority of which are treatable: http://alzheimersweekly.com/content/10-types-dementia#Cause. I’m also an advocate for memory screenings. How do we know we are getting worse if we don’t know from whence we start?

I also want to point out that I’m not advising that women (and men) stop taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. While I think that the level of drug use in North America says something about our way of life (but that’s a whole other discussion!), antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have their place and are absolutely necessary for some people. Given the choice between depression and all that it can entail, and a medication that helps a lot but might cause some memory loss, most of us would choose the drug.

I’m still trying to figure out where I am going with this particular post. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw. I could just leave it with admonishing everyone to go see their doctor. But I think we need to raise a red flag here. The point is, we just don’t know enough about the brain to mess with it the way we do. If antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills cause memory loss, what are the longterm effects? To be sure, memory loss in middle-age women is nothing new. But are we creating something worse, memory loss beyond what our grandmothers might have experienced, those who still had to deal with hormones and stress and children and sleepless nights but who didn’t have the benefit of medications? Are we creating a whole new level of dementia above and beyond the tsunami of Alzheimer’s that we expect as the baby boomers age?

I guess we will find out.