Whether you’re dreading ‘The Change’ or looking forward to the freedom it can bring, for most women in their midlife years, menopause is on the menu.
And while this life stage may bring changes and challenges, there are positive steps that women can take to improve their health and wellbeing during this time.
When does the menopause occur?
Defined as the final menstrual period, the menopause typically occurs for women in Australia at around 51-52 years of age.
However, reaching it any time from 45-55 years is considered normal.
For some women, the menopause can occur earlier as a result of cancer treatment, surgery or other unknown causes.
The journey that varies
There is no one way to go through the menopause. Each woman’s experience is unique.
There is a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms that are commonly associated with the menopause, but which can vary greatly in terms of how mild or severe they are.
In fact, while 20% of women will have no menopausal symptoms, 60% will experience mild to moderate symptoms and the remaining 20% will have symptoms so severe that they significantly interfere with their daily life.
Some of the common symptoms of the menopause are hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings.
Symptoms typically occur because of changes in hormone levels; in particular, the dramatic drop in the female hormone called oestrogen.
Hormones, hormones, hormones
One way to relieve to relieve the troublesome symptoms of the menopause is by using menopausal hormone therapy (MHT, formerly known as hormone replacement therapy or HRT).
In the recent episode called ‘Ageing Well’ on ABC TV’s Ask the Doctor program, Jean Hailes Medical Director and gynaecologist Dr Elizabeth Farrell was asked how effective MHT is at treating troublesome symptoms of the menopause.
“[MHT is] very effective in women who have moderate to severe symptoms,” explains Dr Farrell.
“Really, for the women who suffer from menopausal symptoms that impact on their quality of life, menopausal hormone therapy is a godsend.”
Dr Farrell says that MHT often gives women back a sense of control in what can be a challenging time.
“The number of women who come in, once they’ve gone on it [MHT], and say ‘I’ve got my body back, I’ve got my brain back, I’ve got me back’. Their quality of life has improved greatly,” she says.
More ways to age well through the menopause
The menopause, for many women, can be a time when they press pause on always meeting the needs of others, and start to put their own lives and their health first.
Here are some research-based tips to help you age well and stay in good health:
Prevent brain-age with mind-boosting foods
Backed up by solid evidence, this way of eating can help support your memory and mind as well as reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Read about the MIND diet.
Studies show that regular exercise can help women going through the menopause by improving quality of life and increasing emotional wellbeing.
Limit the vices
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend limiting alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks on any day, as well as having at least two alcohol-free days every week, to reduce the risk of long-term harm.
The menopause and ageing can have significant effects on mental and emotional health, so it’s particularly important – and beneficial – to have strong social connections during this life stage.