Over 35 and Having a Baby? It May Help Your Memory

Photography: Serina Crinis Photography

By Hannah Schenker

Women over age 35 who want to conceive are often cautioned of all the possible risks, and are even subjected to this lovely term: “geriatric pregnancy”. But researchers have discovered that it’s not all risks – it may even be beneficial to you. In fact, they have found that you may have a better memory as you age, and that having subsequent children will increase that benefit. Wahoo! Great news, seeing as more and more women are delaying having children until their 30s and beyond.

While hardly geriatric, being of “advanced maternal age” brings with it a whole raft of possible negative outcomes:

  • fertility issues (fertility declines rapidly from age 35)
  • slightly higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth
  • more likely to develop gestational diabetes or high blood pressure while pregnant
  • rates of induction, cesarean and assisted births is slightly higher
  • higher risk of babies with chromosomal problems such as Down’s syndrome
  • slightly more risk of having a premature baby, or baby born with low birth weight

All pretty serious and worth considering, but the fact that there are some benefits is music to our (worried) ears.

The study was (funnily enough) published in the American Journal of Geriatric Studies. Researchers found that women have better memories after menopause if they had their last baby after age 35, if they used hormonal contraceptives for more than 10 years or began their menstrual cycle before turning 13.

The study included 830 women who, on average, were 60 years old. The data was adjusted for age, race and ethnicity, income, and education.

The women were given a series of tests, including assessments of verbal memory (how well they could recall a list of words or retelling a story after being distracted), psychomotor speed, attention and concentration, planning, visual perception, and memory. They also noted their reproductive history, including when they began menstruating, got pregnant, and used birth control.

“The main hormones at play are estrogen and progesterone. In animal studies, estrogen has a beneficial impact on brain chemistry, function and structure; progesterone is linked with growth and development of brain tissue,” said Roksana Karim, lead author of the study and assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

They found that postmenopausal women who had their last pregnancy after age 35 had better verbal memory as they aged. If their first pregnancy was at age 24 or older, they also had significantly better executive function (which includes attention control, working memory, reasoning and problem solving).

Whereas women who had babies between the ages of 15 and 24 appeared to have lower cognitive function at middle age.

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