If hormone therapy (HT) is started within five years of menopause, there is a 30% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease! These startling results were reported today in “First To Know,” the e-newsletter distributed by the North American Menopause Society. The original study, published in the journal Neurology (October 30, 2012) was conducted with more than 1700 women in Cache County, Utah over a seven-year period. It showed that there was a small window of opportunity for HT to be effective against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease – specifically, within the first five years of menopause. If hormone therapy is started after that five-year window, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is unchanged.

This validates some of the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a fifteen-year study initiated in 1991. You may recall that one segment of the WHI was halted when researchers found that women taking HT had higher rates of heart disease. However, those findings were true only for women who started hormone therapy as much as ten years post menopause. The Cache County study reflects similar results for older women who start hormone therapy.

Even more surprising  was the news that unopposed hormone therapy (estrogen only) seemed to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s even more than a combination of estrogen and progesterone. And longer treatment with hormone therapy (as much as 10 years after menopause) apparently maintained that lower risk for Alzheimer’s.

The authors of the study (Shao H, Breitner JC, Whitmer RA, et al)cautioned that women should not start or continue hormone therapy primarily to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, since there are many other factors to consider. It does reassure me, however, that my extended hormone therapy may not be such a terrible idea after all. Of course, unopposed estrogen therapy has been shown to increase the risk of uterine cancer. But progesterone is one of the culprits that causes foggy brain, so I am not crazy about taking it.

Doesn’t it drive you crazy that no one really knows what we should do? And when we should do it? Arrrrgh! I just want simple, clean answers and there are none. What will happen to me medically will happen, I suppose. I’d just like to improve my odds of staying alive and coherent as long as possible….

To read the entire article and decide what this study means to and for you, visit the NAMS e-newsletter site. The original study was published in Neurology, October 30, 2012.