HRT & Memory

By: Sahar El-Hodiri
By: Sahar El-Hodiri

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Two more strikes against hormone replacement therapy. New research finds the combination of estrogen and progestin increase a woman's risk of stroke and Alzheimer's.

At first, researchers hoped HRT would protect against heart disease. Last summer, a study found that's not true. Now two new studies say don't rely on hormone therapy to protect against stroke or memory loss.

78-year old Elaine Odenwald remembers to tend to her flowers. Other memories are more elusive.

Elaine says, "The process of aging does sort of dull things. Usually, my memories come back to me. They don't always come the first time."

Elaine volunteered for the Women's Health Initiative memory study. Past research suggests taking the hormones estrogen and protestin together might protect elderly women against dementia and memory loss.

But a new comprehensive study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that's not so.

Wake Forest Researcher Dr. Sally Shumaker says, "There is no reason for a women, an older woman certainly, to take combination hormone therapy. It will, in fact, increase her risk of dementia."

Researchers studied about 4,500 elderly women over four years. Some received the estrogen-progestin combination therapy, some a placebo. Women on the combined hormone therapy were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those on a placebo.

The study finds for every 10,000 elderly women who do not take the combination hormone therapy, 22 will develop dementia. For every 10,000 women who do take combination therapy, 45 will develop it.

Dr. Shumaker says, "The risk for any individual woman is relatively small. At the same time, if you think on a national basis or public health basis, the risk is high and important and it's critical that women age 65 and older consider going off combination therapy if they're still currently taking it."

The study does not answer whether estrogen alone may still protect against memory loss or stroke. Most doctors agree HRT is safe for short-term use.

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