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Hormone replacement therapy may do more than protect aging women from bone loss -- it could also slow memory loss, researchers said Wednesday.

The National Institute on Aging study found that women taking estrogen to prevent symptoms of menopause did better on memory tests than women of the same age who did not take estrogen.

Writing in the journal Neurology, they said their study was the first to document the effect of estrogen on age-related memory loss over a long period of time.

The researchers, led by Susan Resnick, tested 288 women taking part in a long-term aging study in Baltimore from 1978 to 1994.

The women took regular memory tests known as Benton Visual Retention tests. The 116 who took estrogen replacement therapy made significantly fewer errors than women who never took hormones.

"Animal studies show that estrogen can directly influence structural characteristics of neurons in the brain, particularly in regions that are important for new learning," Ms. Resnick said.

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