Estrogen and Cognitive Function in Older Women

The use of estrogen does not reduce the risk of dementia in older women and might even increase it. A trial suggests that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might increase health risks in postmenopausal women. The study’s authors, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recommend against using HRT to prevent dementia in women aged 65 or older.

Previous research had shown that women using an estrogen-progestin combination were also at an increased risk for dementia or age-related functional impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease, and that HRT had no effect on mild cognitive impairment or memory loss. That research, part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), was halted two years ago amid indications that HRT did more harm than good.
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In February 2004, the National Institutes of Health halted another study involving estrogen-only therapy because the risk of stroke was considered to outweigh the benefit of possible protection against coronary heart disease.

Wyeth, the maker of hormone therapies, said that doctors should consider the data as they assess patients’ needs and emphasized that the data might not apply to newly postmenopausal women.