By Orla Ni Sheaghdha
Key research in the link between sex hormones and brain functions is currently underway at Durham University. Scientists have discovered that there is a positive correlation between elevated levels of hormones and performing mental tasks. These findings have come out of tests conducted on women currently involved in hormone therapy (HT). The study is being lead by Dr. Markus Hausmann who is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the university. This has been ongoing for the last eight years and the most recent results have been discovered in the past week.
Dr. Ulrike Bayer is a research fellow with the project and states that the most recent findings have come from their tests of fine motor skills in post-menopausal women. “There are two conditions with the motor tasks. One simple and one difficult. We compare the performance of the left hand with the right using the finger-tapping tests.” The subjects involved in the study are divided into three comparison groups. There is a control group of women without the hormone drug, a group who only take oestrogen and a third group who take both oestrogen and progestin. The findings indicate improved motor functions in the third group of women.
The elevated levels of hormones apparently boosts the cognitive skills of women using the therapy. Their brain functioning works on an equal level with that of younger women who would have the same amount of sex hormones in their bodies. Dr. Hausmann says that this is due to better co-ordination between the right and left sides of the brain. “The tests with post-menopausal women show that HT can help both sides of the brain pull their weight, much in the same way the brain organises itself in younger women.” Visual tasks are also set to women to measure their level of cognitive functioning. The subjects are presented with images and they have to press a button to compare how similar they are to each other.
It has also been suggested that hormone therapy such as this may have a role in protecting against strokes. Higher brain functioning due to increased hormone levels help to combat conditions which impair motor skills. This good news is limited to women for the moment as the study is being conducted with female hormones. Fortunately, Dr. Bayer is confident that future research with men of a similar age will yield similar results to the current project.