Our latest Q & A is with Michelle McCarthy, co-author of Supporting Women with Learning Disabilities through the Menopause, one of a range of vital publications and resources available through the PavPub bookstore. 

LDT: What support is typically available to women in the UK generally, before and during the menopause?

Michelle: In the general population many women don’t need support, as such, but would usually inform themselves about the menopause through reading – books, magazines, websites, etc . For those with troubling symptoms, medical help is available from their GP, some may attend specialist menopause clinics. Often women may talk to female friends and family, so peer support is common.

LDT: What characterises the menopause, how does it vary person to person, and what proportion of women are likely to be affected?

Michelle: Menopause is characterised by changes in menstrual pattern (it varies, but less bleeding, less often is the most common pattern) over a few years until periods cease altogether. Hot flushes are common, as are changes in mood, tiredness, skin and hair condition, etc. There is huge variation in symptoms between women. Some really struggle, some aren’t especially troubled by it. All women go through the menopause.

'Women with learning disabilities often have the menopause earlier than other women - and are likely to prefer support from older women.'

LDT: What unique challenges does it pose to people with learning disabilities?

Michelle: Women with learning disabilities are likely to lack knowledge about what the menopause is, what to expect, what it means and where to get help.

LDT: Who has/should assume a responsibility to support people with LD with the menopause?

Michelle: Support staff who work with older women with learning disabilities in any capacity should have knowledge and resources to enable them to support women through this important transition. Health care professionals should also be aware of the particular issues for women with learning disabilities and have accessible information ready to offer.

LDT: What are some of the key things they should bear in mind and why?

Michelle: They should not assume that women with learning disabilities already know key things about the menopause. That women with learning disabilities are very likely to want to be supported through the menopause by female staff, if possible older female staff. They should be aware that women with learning disabilities often have a somewhat earlier menopause than other women. They should be aware that for some women with learning disabilities, who have never been able to have, or keep their, children, the end of their fertile life may be emotionally difficult to come to terms with.