Menopause: don't overlook women with learning disabilities

People with learning disabilities face distinct health and well-being challenges as they age and the challenges of menopausal transition can be overlooked

Illustration shows a woman with grey hair sitting cross-legged with a circular gynaecological clock in her lap
Picture: iStock

People with learning disabilities face distinct challenges as they age, particularly with health and well-being.

We know that people with a learning disability, or intellectual disability as it is known in Ireland, are at risk of developing the same age-related conditions as the general population but diagnostic overshadowing is still a big problem.

One example is menopause, which represents a significant physiological transition in a woman’s life. While menopause is a natural process, its effects can vary widely among individuals.

Discussions about menopause are increasingly mainstream thanks to television coverage and press reports. Despite this progress, women with learning disabilities have been largely unrepresented in the growing discourse.

For these women navigating the menopausal transition presents distinctive challenges that necessitate special attention and tailored care. They frequently face disparities in accessing healthcare services and may encounter barriers in communicating their symptoms effectively. Consequently, their experiences of menopause may be overlooked, leading to inadequate support and management.

Person-centred approach to recognise unique needs, preferences and abilities is vital

Learning and intellectual disability nurses can play a pivotal role in addressing the healthcare needs of women during the menopause. A person-centred approach that recognises the unique needs, preferences and abilities of individuals is essential. This involves fostering open communication, building trust and involving women in decision-making about their care.

Training and education can enhance knowledge and competence in managing menopause. This includes understanding the potential impact of menopause on behaviour, cognitive function and overall well-being, as well as adapting diagnostic and treatment strategies accordingly. Collaborative care involving interdisciplinary teams is crucial for addressing the multifaceted needs of these women.

Beyond clinical care, we should also advocate for the inclusion of women with a learning disability in research and developing evidence-based guidelines adapted to their specific needs. By participating actively in research and contributing to the body of knowledge on menopause and learning disability, we can contribute to improved understanding, enhance support services and support better outcomes for this population.

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