Context: The Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) previously reported that estrogen plus progestin therapy does not protect cognition among women aged 65 years or older. The effect of estrogen-alone therapy, also evaluated in WHIMS, on cognition has not been established for this population.
Objectives: To determine whether conjugated equine estrogen (CEE) alters global cognitive function in older women and to compare its effect with CEE plus medroxyprogesterone acetate (CEE plus MPA).
Design, setting, and participants: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled ancillary study of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), WHIMS evaluated the effect of CEE on incidence of probable dementia among community-dwelling women aged 65 to 79 years with prior hysterectomy from 39 US academic centers that started in June 1995. Of 3200 eligible women free of probable dementia enrolled in the WHI, 2947 (92.1%) were enrolled in WHIMS. Analyses were conducted on the 2808 women (95.3%) with a baseline and at least 1 follow-up measure of global cognitive function before the trial's termination on February 29, 2004.
Interventions: Participants received 1 daily tablet containing either 0.625 mg of CEE (n = 1387) or matching placebo (n = 1421).
Main outcome measure: Global cognitive function measured annually with the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MSE).
Results: During a mean follow-up of 5.4 years, mean (SE) 3MSE scores were 0.26 (0.13) units lower than among women assigned to CEE compared with placebo (P =.04). For pooled hormone therapy (CEE combined with CEE plus MPA), the mean (SE) decrease was 0.21 (0.08; P =.006). Removing women with dementia, mild cognitive impairment, or stroke from the analyses lessened these differences. The adverse effect of hormone therapy was more pronounced among women with lower cognitive function at baseline (all P<.01). For women assigned to CEE compared with placebo, the relative risk of having a 10-unit decrease in 3MSE scores (>2 SDs) was estimated to be 1.47 (95% confidence interval, 1.04-2.07).
Conclusion: For women aged 65 years or older, hormone therapy had an adverse effect on cognition, which was greater among women with lower cognitive function at initiation of treatment.