Around half the world’s population have or will go through it yet menopause is a topic many people still find difficult to discuss. Some even describe it as the last great taboo. For many women, it can be a challenging time for their overall health and well-being. They may experience symptoms ranging from anxiety and mood swings to brain fog and hot flashes. World Menopause Day falls in October this year. Read on as Comfort Keepers takes advantage of this golden opportunity to open up about a subject that is as natural as giving birth.
The International Menopause Society (IMS) designated 18th October to raise awareness of menopause. The goal has been to come up with support options that can improve the health and well-being of women in their midlife and beyond.
In its annual report for 2022, the IMS has been focusing on menopausal brain fog. Symptoms can happen at around the time of the menopause. They can include:
- Problems remembering words and numbers
- Misplacing familiar items like keys
- Difficulty concentrating and losing one’s train of thought
- Finding it hard to switch from one task to another
- Forgetting why you’re doing something or failing to remember an appointment
- Changes in your mood, anxiety, mood swings and low self-esteem
Studies show that women’s memories do change at menopause. That means these kinds of issues are very real and not a figment of a person’s imagination. Brain fog tends to lift post-menopause.
The cause of brain fog may be due to rising and falling hormone levels, especially estrogen. This is also likely linked to hot flashes, sleep disturbances and mood changes.
The Menopause and Dementia
All women go through menopause, but most women won’t develop dementia. Dementia in middle-aged women is very rare unless there is a family history of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is therefore unlikely that there’s a connection between experiencing brain fog and developing dementia.
The Physical Effects
There are common physical symptoms during the menopause and perimenopause too. They include:
- Hot flashes, sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest
- Dizziness, problems sleeping, night sweats
- Palpitations when your heartbeats become more noticeable
- Headaches and migraines that are worse than usual
- Muscle aches and joint pains
- Changes to body shape and weight gain
- Changes to the skin including dry and itchy patches
- A reduced sex drive
- Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Some symptoms can last for months or years. They can also change over time. For instance, you may experience night sweats and hot flashes. You then might later suffer from a mild form of depression and anxiety.
You can ease the symptoms of night sweats and hot flushes by:
- Wearing light clothing
- Keeping the bedroom cool overnight
- Taking a cool shower, using a fan or making a cold drink with plenty of ice
- Avoiding triggers such as caffeine, spicy food and alcohol
- Exercising regularly and maintaining your optimum weight
Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT)
This is the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms. It may help reduce brain fog. Some women worry that if they use MHT to alleviate hot flushes they may increase the risk of dementia. If you are healthy and start MHT early on in menopause, all the evidence points to it being safe.
If you use only estrogen therapy, it appears to be low-risk to cognitive function even in late menopause. You should always discuss the potential dangers and benefits with your healthcare practitioner.
If you have brain fog during menopause and have concerns about late-life dementia, there is plenty you can do to mitigate the risks.
The menopause can significantly speed up bone loss and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can help to reduce the risk of this. You can also try to keep bones strong by:
- Performing resistance exercises e.g. try using canned foods instead of weights
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium
- Taking a vitamin D supplement
Staving Off Dementia
We can’t control some dementia risk factors such as age, gender and genetic history, but, we can keep a watchful eye on our overall health with regular check-ups. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can all be detrimental to our brain health.
You should watch your weight by keeping to a healthy BMI. You should also monitor your blood pressure and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Taking regular physical activity and increasing cardiovascular fitness reduce the risk of dementia.
All of this can be challenging for the older person. Remember that tinned and frozen fruits and vegetables count and can be as nutritious as fresh. The homecare team at Comfort Keepers can also help with a realistic exercise plan.
It’s important to get sufficient good quality sleep and minimise stress. You must not smoke and only drink in moderation. Challenge and exercise your brain by learning new skills. Stay connected as social engagement can boost your brain health.
Practicing mindfulness and yoga can also be extremely beneficial. They can improve the quality of our sleep and help us relax.
Comfort Keepers offers a range of homecare support services that cover all these important issues.
When Does it Happen?
The menopause occurs when a woman’s periods stop because of lower hormone levels. This typically takes place in older women aged between 45 and 55. It can naturally happen earlier or for other reasons like surgery to remove the uterus or the ovaries. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy or genetics can also bring on an early menopause.
The pre-menopause is when a woman has symptoms before her periods have stopped altogether. A person reaches menopause when they have not had a period for 12 months.
Estimates suggest that more than half a million women in Ireland experience the effects of the perimenopause or menopause at any given time.
The Impact of the Menopause on the Workplace in Ireland
Every woman’s experience of menopause is highly personal and unique. For many, the impact of the menopause in the workplace can be particularly challenging.
Women make up a significant proportion of Ireland’s workforce. Menopause is therefore going to have an impact on all organisations across the board. This could be through the lived experiences of their employees in both a professional context as well as their personal lives.
Many women experiencing menopausal symptoms say these had a negative impact on their work. They may feel unable to share their experience with their manager or employer, for example.
Taking Time off Work
The Menopause Hub, Ireland’s first dedicated menopause clinic, has conducted its own research. It found that almost half of women who needed to take a day off work due to their menopausal symptoms said they didn’t feel comfortable telling their employer the reason why.
Hot flashes can be one of the most visibly obvious problems. Women have described making pitches for business when red-faced and sweating. The experience can leave them feeling frustrated and demoralised. They may also feel that they can’t have a shared office as cool as they need because a colleague is already sitting shivering. These are very real and practical issues.
There is evidence of a growing awareness within the workplace of menopausal difficulties that women face. How Ireland compares internationally when it comes to dealing with the menopause in the workplace is hard to measure. That’s partly because there is a historical lack of discussion on the topic.
What Support in the Workplace Can Look Like
The Irish Civil Service has led a push to facilitate women to open up about their health and well-being in the workplace.
There can be a reluctance to either acknowledge or more widely discuss the menopause. This can create a vicious cycle that can compound a person’s sense of isolation. Leaders found that a webinar approach gave women the chance to engage in a safe and comfortable way.
Discussing health issues in a virtual setting was helpful. It gave employees the chance to understand some of the misconceptions about the menopause. There was an opportunity to communicate sensitively. Furthermore, it offered a practical understanding of workplace considerations for managers and colleagues. This was in an open, safe and engaging space.
Individual Workplace Consultations
The work to support women going through the menopause has been expanding to include 1-1 private consultations. These allow women to discuss issues from their perspective. Everyone’s experiences are different. Allowing individuals time to talk about their own unique situations is empowering. It also offers the chance for invaluable insights.
The Menopause Hub also provides virtual 1-1 menopause consultations that external companies can offer their employees. These support structures let those experiencing menopause feel they have a voice. Understanding and support are after all the core of an inclusive workplace.
Let Comfort Keepers Help
As society opens up about the impact of menopausal symptoms, more support will be able to be offered to women.
Comfort Keepers’ homecare team is able to help older women in their care who may also be experiencing menopause. We know that every individual may have their own unique needs.
Find out about the services we can offer and book a consultation today.