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Supporting someone to navigate the menopause

53-year-old Vicky* lives in supported accommodation with four other women. She has a learning disability and autism, and is registered deaf and non-verbal. Vicky is a talented artist and has had her work exhibited in the past.

A few months ago, staff noticed that she'd started to behave out of character. In this blog, Caroline*, a support worker at Vicky's home, talks about the work that her and her colleagues did to find out what was affecting Vicky. 

Keeping note of symptoms 

We started to try and spend more time with Vicky, which wasn't easy as she likes her own space. So, we tried to be more observant without compromising her privacy while she went about daily activities within her home.

Vicky would lie on the floor and wave her arms and legs in the air (staff would observe and try to find out what was wrong but to no avail). She was very red in the face and at times was drinking more water than usual. Staff would prompt her to drink water rather than cups of tea, as this quenched her thirst. 

Vicky would cry for no reason that we could identify, and staff would try to reassure without touching her as she doesn't like that. We started to think about anything we might not be supporting her with, which was a challenging task due to limited communication. We thought about age, prognoses, health...what could it be?

Seeking medical support

After six months, and with the health review coming up, we intensified our observations. At the health review we made sure we raised our concerns to the nurse and GP. The GP referred Vicky for a dementia assessment with the Wandsworth Learning Disability Health team. We were perplexed; however, the assessment was conducted and as we all thought this was not the issue. I discussed the possibility of the menopause with the assessor and requested easy read information for us to go through with Vicky. We are now using this information for the other women we support.

One day Vicky became angry and physically reacted towards a staff member while being supported in her bedroom. We supported her to contact the GP and we explained what had happened. The GP at first suggested making a referral, but we said that had been done already. He had a closer look at her notes and said he would recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches to try. We were to observe if these assisted Vicky to have a more even mood and range of emotions.

Vicky has now been using the HRT patches for two months, and we will soon feedback to the GP if it was effective. So far, observations indicate it could be helping. Fingers crossed we worked out what was happening to her. We recognised that women we support need the menopause to be considered if there is a change – not just physically but emotionally, too. 

Written by Caroline, Support Worker

*Names have been changed to protect identities